Wednesday, June 18, 2 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 18, 2008; 2:00 PM
Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, June 18 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.
A transcript follows.
Chico Harlan: Greetings everybody. Thanks for chatting this afternoon. If you're here for insight on the latest Hunter S. Thompson film, you're in the wrong chat room.
Centreville, Va.: Last year John Lannan went from single-A Potomac in April to the majors in July. Do the Nationals have anyone this year rocketing up toward D.C.?
Chico Harlan: The closest parallel this year is Adrian Alaniz, who's putting up unreal numbers wherever he's pitched this season. Alaniz is a U-Texas product, 24 years old, who started the season in Class A Potomac. He started 12 games there, and compiled -- get this -- a 9-0 record and 2.62 ERA.
So yeah, that warranted a promotion.
First start with Harrisburg this week?
Six innings, three hits, no runs.
It's doubtful we'll see Alaniz in the bigs this season, but he'll get a long look next year. Especially if he keeps up this kind of performance.
Bethesda, Md.: Do players obsess over run support stats for pitchers like some fans (and some in the media) do? After all, it's a stat that says nothing about the pitcher's quality, and something they have very little control over (none in the AL, thanks to the DH; at least here in the NL they can try to pick up a rare RBI.) It's not like the Nats aren't trying to score runs when Lannan is pitching; it's just that they're being their usual anemic selves...
Chico Harlan: Pitchers can't do themselves any favors by obsessing about run support. Even worrying about it can be counterproductive. I think it's been about five starts in a row now where Lannan has talked to the media and mentioned something along the lines of, "Well, eventually we'll start swinging the bats. In the meantime, I just have to keep doing my job."
And he's right. Wins and losses are a lousy way to judge a pitcher. Lannan may be 4-8, but he's darn effective, and everybody that matters in baseball knows it.
That said, over time, a lack of run support WILL start burdening a pitcher's mind. Some Nats have admitted as much. The danger is this: When a pitcher knows he has no margin for error, he can become too intent on making every pitch perfect. And that's when the trouble begins. Pitchers tend to do best when they just let it happen.
What does it mean for Lannan? He's kept his mind right through all the pathetic offense. That says something about his make-up in itself.
PB: If the Mets offer Church and Schneider for Acta, do the Nats take that deal?
Chico Harlan: No.
And if you just asked the question as a joke, PB, the answer is still No.
Mention Reyes or Wright, and I'd listen. It would have to be a substantial offer. As in, All Stars.
Washington, D.C.: Livan seemed motivated last night to have a good showing against his old ball club. Do you think the Nats regret not signing him?
Chico Harlan: Probably not. Their rotation doesn't exactly need a Livan right now. (That is, a 33-year-old pitcher who's been letting up more than 2 hits per inning -- before last night.) Had the Nats given a few mill to Hernandez this offseason, they'd be roughly the same team... though they might not have spent the money on Paul Lo Duca.
Manny and the Umps: Hi Chico,
First, let me say that no other professional sport allows coaches and managers to come out onto the field or court, stop play, and argue/discuss a call for long periods of time. And MLB should end this very unproductive practice for pro baseball. Manny's right. It is mostly unproductive. And if the truth were known, my guess is that the umps that do Nats games have a great deal of respect for Manny because of his approach and the Nats probably benefit in subtle ways because of this. Who knows.
Having said that, as long as MLB allows/condones managers coming out onto the field to question/argue calls other than balls/strikes, there are times when a quick visit by Manny would signal to the umps that he is watching. And because he rarely does this, when he does it has to carry a little more weight with them. And maybe he gets the next benefit of the doubt call. Again, who knows. And there are times when maybe his quick, calm visit sends a positive signal to his players that he will stand up for them.
Chico Harlan: I don't doubt that umps appreciate Manny's mannerisms.
Manny told me that way back in his minor league days, he used to go nuts on umpires. He'd yell, kick dirt, all that, the typical baseball routine that would be inappropriate anywhere but on a diamond.
Then, finally, he realized: "These are minor league umps just like I'm a minor league manager. We both are learning. We're all trying to move up to the big leagues. I need to cut them a break."
Even now, Manny has a sense of who these umpires actually are. Coaches/managers have several ways of currying influence with the guys who call a game -- some pro football coaches, for instance, are such great intimidators that they will get a couple calls now and then -- but respect can carry the same weight. That's Manny's method.
Washington, D.C.: A major part of re-signing Dmitri Young was that he'd be a mentor to Elijah Dukes. How has that turned out? Was Young involved in solving Dukes's recent issues, like apologizing to Manny Acta?
Chico Harlan: Dmitri has been a tremendous help. Absolutely. I'm not certain if Dmitri encouraged the apology, but I know that after the yelling incident, Dmitri stayed super-close to Dukes, and guarded him from any media members. The day after that dugout confrontation, it was Dmitri who told the media that Elijah wasn't going to talk. Later he explained to me that he was just protecting his younger teammate.
The two seem to get along well. Whether it's playing video games in the clubhouse or just chatting during BP, you often see them together.
Stafford, N.Y.: What's the latest on first-rounder Aaron Crow?
Chico Harlan: Hasn't signed yet, obviously, but such negotiations take time. Often you'll start to see several first-rounders sign, and then it will happen in bunches. No time to worry yet. I think Crow will be quite signable.
Alexandria, Va..: Jon Heyman wrote that he was hearing general manager Jim Bowden could be in some trouble. What are you hearing about this?
Chico Harlan: That was one sentence, attributed to nobody. The kind of rumor that I give no credence to. Any GM overseeing a last-place team can't love his job security, but Jim has enough enemies in baseball that somebody from outside the organization probably started the whispering. For now, Bowden is and will remain this team's GM.
Alexandria Eschate: I think Livan's age is technically "33" rather than 33.
Chico Harlan: Classic. Great line.
The mysterious 33.
Anybody suddenly in the mood for a Rolling Rock?
Silver Spring, Md.: Isn't it time to just release Nick Johnson. This is for simple fairness, and will not save any money. For the last two years, Mr. Johnson has received $5M a year, essentially to heal, to be on sick leave. He was hired to play baseball games. Whoever hired Mr. Johnson for this kind of money made a huge mistake. On a game-played basis, Mr. Johnson is probably up there with ARod.
Maybe it is time to part ways.
Chico Harlan: Disagree. Washington has no intention to release Johnson. None whatsoever.
Johnson's only problem is that he's historically been very slow to recover from injuries. This is just the latest example. But no doubt he'll be playing again during the last months of the season. And the Nats need him. Even when his average is down, he helps the team by drawing walks and taking pitches. No way does Livan cruise through an entire game on turbo-speed if he has to face Johnson three or four times.
Section 506: Any word on Austin Kearns? Ryan Wagner? Johnny Estrada? Nick Johnson?
Chico Harlan: Kearns will still need another week or so to build up those good ol' "baseball activities." By the end of this month, we might be ready to talk rehab assignment.
Johnson is behind schedule. Just got his cast off earlier this week. He might need another month.
Wagner. Just getting started back up. He's been throwing more and more w/simulated games, etc. But I'm 99 percent sure he hasn't started a rehab assignment yet.
Can't give you too many details on Estrada. I'm assuming no news means he's not due back any time soon. And really, if he was, would it matter?
Kensington: What's your sense of the clubhouse attitude or mood these days? Last year, it seemed as though veterans like Dmitri Young served as good role models to the younger players. Now that he's back, is he helping in this way again?
Chico Harlan: I get the sense the mood has brightened quite a bit in the last week. The sweep helped a lot. Dmitri is a vibrant personality, and his daily presence in their (when he's not sick) gives everybody a boost, too. I've heard more joking among those guys in the last few days than I'd heard, cumulative, in my first month on the job.
Pittsburgh, Va.: Chico, what's your take on tonight's starter, Twins righty Kevin Slowey, who -- I believe -- went to Upper St. Clair with you. Did you know him? What is to be expected out of him?
Chico Harlan: I went to Mt. Lebanon, not USC, so it's very possible Slowey struck me out numerous times between 1990 and 2000. No lifetime stats available, I'm happy to report.
I don't know the guy, but I do know he was one of the prospects being dangled for Soriano. The Nats never felt too enamored with the guy, though. Scouting report indicates he has plenty of potential, but right now, he's fairly ordinary. (3-6, 4.70 ERA).
He was probably better as a USC Panther.
Tim Redding: Why can't Tim Redding get past 5 innings? Does he tire out quickly, or do the hitters figure him out quickly? Granted, he's been halfway decent, but he's the king of the "5 good innings" mantra. Back in the day, 5 good innings got you sent down.
Chico Harlan: Granted, this question has been timely for about 6 weeks now, but Redding did make it through six in his last start. And that was in spite of three fielding errors, which means he really earned 21 outs (or 7 innings), not merely six.
But that aside...
I think Redding tends to struggle the third time through the order because batters can solve it. Redding is a very admirable MLB pitcher because he's made himself into a solid starter despite not having superb stuff. So he has to battle his own shortcomings. You see this in most pronounced form the longer a game goes.
But at least Redding gets his team that far, normally with a decent chance to win.
Bethesda, Md.: Chico,
True or false:
The Metrodome is the worst stadium you've ever watched an MLB game played.
Chico Harlan: True.
Also, worst press box food ever, which doesn't help.
Tiniest visiting clubhouse I've ever seen.
No aesthetic appeal.
Uninspiring location within the city.
I could go on. Yesterday night, it was beautiful outside -- around 77 degrees, perfect setting sun. And we were in a vacuum-sealed, temp-controlled garbage bag. It's a wonder fans find the motivation to step inside that place.
Manassas, Va.: Have you heard any talk about Nats asst GM Mike Rizzo being a candidate for the M's job? Or the soon to be vacant Mets job?
Based on last nights Sally league All-star game MVP Bill Rhinhardt and home run derby champ Michael Burgess, wouldn't the guy responsible for the Nats excellent draft record be a natural candidate?
Chico Harlan: I think Rizzo will have plenty of chances to at least interview for GM jobs well into the future. There's no question he has one of the best eyes for talent in baseball.
But remember, there's more to being a GM than simply knowing a good fastball. As a GM, you become a manager of an elaborate network of people. You need organization skills. You need to be the face of the franchise in a lot of public forums. So, I'm not saying Rizzo has or doesn't have these qualities... that's for other teams to decide. But it does explain why a lot of great talent evaluators sometimes remain talent evaluators.
A GM hiring is complicating.
Re: Metrodome: I guess you haven't been to Tropicana Field. The only thing missing is the flusher.
Chico Harlan: Good point.
Maybe once I can figure out the rhyme/reason of the interleague scheduling, I'll know when to anticipate the trip to St. Pete.
Manassas, Va.: Chico, historically Nick Johnson has not played a full season. Ever. The closest he ever came was 2006, then got hurt and missed a whole season. If he's a slow healer that means he's always healing, which means he's rarely playing.
It doesn't matter how good his batting eye is, if he doesn't get to use it.
Second the call to part ways with Nicky J.
Chico Harlan: Well, I've got one Nick Johnson defense in me. That's it, and you already got it. Now I'll just let the counter-arguments pile up.
Glen Echo: Chico
What do think the chances are of Dukes finishing this season in MLB? Some of his behavior following a called third strike indicates he made benefit from more anger management counseling. It seems to go beyond a batter's typical expression of disbelief.
Chico Harlan: Wow, that's a fairly loaded question. I would be foolish to predict what Elijah Dukes will be doing in the future. It's tough to predict what will happen to Dukes, but the Nats knew that when they acquired him. I've gotta say that so far, he's hanging in there. If he weathered the Tuesday mele (without missing a start, at that) I think he'll be OK. Keeping up this kind of performance won't hurt, either.
If I were a betting man, I'd guess that Dukes will be on this team long after Wily Mo Pena.
D.C.: Does Bowden travel with the team on every trip? (We know he loves L.A. and Miami.) It sounds like he was with the team in Pittsburgh and was able to address the Dukes situation but does he have to be with them to make the transactions (or foul them up as in the Perez case)?
Chico Harlan: Bowden picks and chooses his road trips. He was there in Pittsburgh. He isn't along on this one. He travels often, but not always along with the team. For instance, before the draft, you hardly ever saw him on the road trips, because he was always checking out prospects.
But he has Pittsburgh roots, and that, coupled with the proximity, probably encouraged him to make the trip. (He was in Seattle, too, though, where he has no roots and which has no proximity to D.C. So what the heck, maybe he just likes the Pike Market.)
Harpers Ferry, W.V.: Is there really any reason to keep Lo Duca on the roster? Once the trading deadline is over and no one else wants him do you just release him so you can get a look at other talent in the system?
Chico Harlan: Probably not. He has a one-year deal. Either you trade him (if you somehow find a taker) or you keep him for his bat. He basically was responsible for Washington's only run last night, so give him some time. I don't think he's holding back any talent right now from reaching the big leagues. Salary aside, if you're looking at the Nats' roster and trying to find room for some must-see youngster, there are several guys I can think of who are more expendable.
Washington, D.C.: Chico, your game recaps are getting better every day, and the Manny piece the other day provided excellent insight. Keep up the good work!
How do you, as a new beat reporter, go about establishing yourself with management and players and building trust/relationships? Also, how wary are/were the players of you at the outset?
Chico Harlan: Thanks for the kind words, DC.
It's a slow process, like relationship-building always is. I had a slight disadvantage because I didn't start this job at spring training. That's always the best time to get to know people -- players have time, and aren't quite so stressed. Management is always around. I'm learning a little more about my job every day. I think yesterday, for instance, I only broke one or two unwritten clubhouse rules instead of the usual four or five.
Dumping Johnson: Suggesting the dumping of Johnson just because he's injured is the perfect example of why you will rarely find anyone from a MLB front office in a chatroom.
Just. Plain. Idoitic.
Chico Harlan: And all this time I thought Mike Rizzo was the one using an alias to toss out questions about his GM candidacy.
Bethesda, Md.: Why didn't Manny say something about the offensive gameplan last night during the game instead of just waiting until after another embarrassment. Maybe he could have had a "Dukes" type discussion with Lenny?
Chico Harlan: I'm guessing he did talk to the players about patience -- if not during the game, then before. But as Lastings Milledge said after the loss about Livan -- and I paraphrase -- "The guy was throwing first-pitch strikes. And if you let him, he would still be out there for his 140th pitch. I see no reason to wait."
Bethesda, Md.: Why is it Steve Shell's name is never mentioned in discussions about prospects or call-ups? He has almost as many strikeouts as any of the starters at Columbus (in fewer innings pitched), only O'Connor has a better WHIP, and Shell's given up half as many homers as O'Connor.
Also, why aren't the Nats taking a serious look at converting Larry Broadway into a pitcher? He's got almost six innings now -- I'm guessing it's all mop-up duty. He hasn't walked a single batter -- that's right, zero walks -- and he's only surrendered 2 hits. It's hard to argue with numbers like that. Maybe one or two innings would be a fluke, but six innings at AAA? He's never going to make the bigs as a hitter, so why not give him a chance at remaking himself into a pitcher?
Chico Harlan: Your Shell question is a good one. I think Shell is only 25 years old, so it's not like he's too old to be considering a prospect. He hasn't let up a run for all of June. That warrants a look, for sure. One thing -- the Nats haven't really had many bullpen injuries and openings this year, aside from Cordero early on. So spots for guys like Shell have been hard to come by.
Broadway's situation, I must admit, I know little about. I've heard nothing about the team even considering a position change. I guess it would be the inverse Ankiel move. But unless you've got A.) an insane amount of natural ability or B.) a knuckleball, you almost never see somebody successfully change positions that late in development.
If it happens, we might need to get Dennis Quaid on the phone.
Section 506: "If I were a betting man, I'd guess that Dukes will be on this team long after Wily Mo Pena."
So, Dukes is safe until next Tuesday?
Seriously, what's the prognosis on WMP? At this point, could he clear waivers?
Chico Harlan: Had a conversation about this yesterday, actually.
At this point, I genuinely believe he'd have a fair shot of clearing waivers. For somebody so bereft of fielding ability, Pena needs -- needs needs needs -- to hit to have any desirability. He looks so lost at the plate right now that it's alarming.
Release Nick?: Not only what Chico said, I don't believe teams are allowed to release players while they're on the DL. And if they release them after they return from the DL and they're still under contract, the team is liable to pay the balance of the player's contract. I think it was Albert Belle or maybe Peter Angelos that told me this.
Chico Harlan: I think, with the help of a late rally from several key contributors, the tides have turned.
Keep Nick 3, Release Nick 2.
Chico Harlan: Well, our chat is about to expire here, folks. Thanks for the questions, and sorry I couldn't get to all of them. Apologies, too, to the fine folks at the Metrodome. I kid because I love.
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