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Washington Nationals have first baseman Adam LaRoche, but still need pitching help

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, introducing new first baseman Adam LaRoche, continues to seek pitching help for Washington. "They're hard to get," Rizzo said of top-flight starters. "The people who have them don't want to get rid of them. Deals have to make sense for you in the long term to make trades and it just hasn't worked out so far."
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, introducing new first baseman Adam LaRoche, continues to seek pitching help for Washington. "They're hard to get," Rizzo said of top-flight starters. "The people who have them don't want to get rid of them. Deals have to make sense for you in the long term to make trades and it just hasn't worked out so far." (By Jacquelyn Martin/associated Press)

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Saturday, January 15, 2011; 12:24 AM

The Washington Nationals introduced new first baseman Adam LaRoche at a news conference Friday, giving him the traditional jersey and a hat - it was too big, but they have four weeks or so to get it right - and putting him through the traditional media gauntlet.

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It may be the Nats' last grip-and-grin photo op of the offseason. Spring training is right around the corner, calendar-wise, and while Nationals fans await those five magic words - "pitchers and catchers report today" - they also await word that the Nats' front office has landed a top-of-the-rotation juggernaut to shore up last year's rickety and injury-plagued pitching staff.

Help is not, apparently, just a phone call away. General Manager Mike Rizzo is disappointed and frustrated by his inability to land a top-flight starter - "I would refer to it as more frustrated, but yes, a bit disappointed, yes," he admitted Friday. It's not from lack of trying, and he hasn't stopped looking, but time is running out.

"They're hard to get," Rizzo said. "The people who have them don't want to get rid of them. Deals have to make sense for you in the long term to make trades and it just hasn't worked out so far."

So it's possible the Nationals will enter spring training with roughly the same starters with whom they ended the 2010 season. Oh my.

"I'm comfortable going into spring training saying that we're going to see a better Jordan Zimmermann, a better Jason Marquis, a better Yunesky Maya, a consistent John Lannan, and possibly an improved Chien-Ming Wang [and] Ross Detwiler," Rizzo said.

"So I think the existing starting rotation will be better, it's going to improve, and that's not to say that we're satisfied where we're at. But we've worked extremely hard to improve the pitching. It hasn't worked out yet and I know that was a point of emphasis early on but we keep trying and we're going to get there sometime."

Rizzo then ran through a laundry list of last year's pitchers and their current status, health-wise. To sum up: Everyone will be 100 percent when they get to Viera next month. Except, of course, Stephen Strasburg, who's recovering from Tommy John surgery. No surprise there. Rizzo was asked about comments by Strasburg indicating he's nearly ready to throw off a mound.

"Stephen will throw off the mound when the doctors tell him to throw off the mound and not a moment sooner," said Rizzo, who sounded less than delighted by his star's remarks. But he said Strasburg would report to spring training with the other pitchers and commence with a rehabilitation program not unlike what Zimmermann went through a year ago.

Detwiler, a left-hander who underwent hip labrum surgery last season and pitched in just eight games, is 100 percent. "We expect him to take the next step in his progression and his career and become a starting pitcher we can rely on to anchor the middle of the rotation," Rizzo said.

Wang, a righty who is still recovering from shoulder surgery performed in 2009, should be 100 percent in spring training. "He showed flashes at the end of the instructional league and continues rehabiliation in Phoenix as we speak," said Rizzo, who wisely signed him to a one-year, $1 million contract laden with incentives.

Who else? Right-hander Garrett Mock (31/3 innings pitched last season) had neck surgery but should be - you guessed it - 100 percent, and he's expected to compete for a rotation spot. Righty J.D. Martin (1-5, 4.13 ERA in nine starts) should be recovered from lower back surgery.

(Don't you just picture these guys on the first day of spring training, in the sunny outfield at Space Coast Stadium, stretching and showing each other their scars?)

Maya's wounds were more psychic than physical. The Cuban defector made just five starts in the minors before joining the Nats, where he was 0-3 with a 5.88 ERA in five starts. Rizzo blames himself for rushing Maya, a right-hander who was 4-2 with a 1.32 ERA and struck out 42 batters in 41 innings to be named the Dominican League's pitcher of the year.

"As far as how I handled him last year, it probably wasn't the best way," Rizzo said. "He was very driven and impatient to get to the big leagues and I probably put him in the position that was difficult for him to succeed. I'll take that one on my back. We won't make the mistake this year. He'll be ready for spring training and I expect really good things out of him."

So there you have it. Did you notice whose name doesn't appear among the injured, the frail, the delicate? Livan Hernandez, who's (at least) 35 years old and apparently the healthiest person playing for, covering or watching the Nationals, and their likely opening day starter. Godspeed, Livo!

In the meantime, Rizzo will stay glued to the phone, trying to make a deal, even though the pool is thinning by the hour. Jeff Francis signed with the Royals on Friday; Carl Pavano appears headed to the Twins, Grant Balfour to the Athletics. Chris Young, perhaps? Rizzo wouldn't say.

"We're looking at all aspects of the ballclub," Rizzo said. "We're certainly not finished with what we're trying to do this winter. If something that we're trying to do comes up and is a good fit for us, we're certainly open to doing something further."


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