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Ask Boswell: U.S. Open, Tiger Woods, Stephen Strasburg, more

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Friday, June 18, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online Friday, June 18 at 1 p.m. from Pebble Beach to take all your questions about the U.S. Open, Stephen Strasburg, the Nats, Major League Baseball and more.

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Photo gallery: Stephen Strasburg's major-league baseball debut

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Washington, DC: Boz, After reading Sheinin's great article this morning on how humble Strasburg is and how he is handling the attention, I wondered if you cared to comment on (or write a column about)Comparisons with Walter Johnson, who likewise benefitted from and was beloved because of his humble, unassuming gentle manner. It seems to me this sets these gentlemen apart from many others with great talent, from the fans perspective.

Tom Boswell: Wow, with the U.S. soccer game and its controversy; with the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and both Tiger and Phil struggling; with the future of Haynesworth still hanging over Redskins Park like a blimp...with so many things going on in sport that I don't know what to watch next, everybody wants to talk about the Nats!

Talk about a sea change.

BTW, as a 50-year NBA fan, I've got to same that the Lakers-Celtics game was one of the most hideous displays of unwatchable sport that I've ever endured just because it was a Huge Game. What has happened to aethetics of a sport I've loved all my life? I know this has been years in the makingt, but talk about homely.

And, yes, the U.S. was robbed on the third goal (and I covered two D.C. pro soccer teams so I'm not a complete dunce.) But what on earth were we doling down 2-0 to Slovenia?

Here in Monterey, it's a dreary, cloudy and chilly as it was sunny, glorious and invigorating yesterday. B ut it may change by this afternoon. Tiger is 2-over par through 24 holes and is one-under through his first six holes today. He started on the back and has gone par-birdie-bogey-par-birdie-par.

Here we go!

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Leesburg, Va: As I was reading Dave Sheinin's articls on Strasburg this morning with the emphasis on privacy, I began to see a similarity between Strasburg and a young Tiger Woods. While I don't expect a Woodesque disaster in the future for Strasburg, do you think his aversion for the media will have negative side effects for Strasburg?

Tom Boswell: Actually, another question here noted the similarity in disposition between Strasburg and some accounts of the young Walter Johnson __both modest, really liked and admirted by teammates.

Some of my favorite athletes and ballpayers have disliked "the media." If I were in their shoes, I would, too. I loved Sheinen's line in his excellent Strasburg piece that, to Stephen, "Hype is the enemy and the media is its weapon." That's not quite accurate. But you get the meaning.

The number of people/outlets that now "cover" sports __and most are clueless and don't cover anything except the hype or controversy of the day__ is just ridiculous. But it has always been this way (at least in sports), but just not with so many bodies on top of eachother. I remember the Phils clubhouse in the late '70's. They hated their local media, which was a perfectly logical position given the Philly tone of rip-everything. So the Phils writers would go around in a pack and pick at scabs. I'd go talk to players who had no one around them and I'd bring up any subject on earth EXCEPT the predictable one that was hot that day. And it tuned out that Bowa, Schmidt, Luzinski, everybody bjut that jerk Carlton, were great funny quoteable guys.

So, I'm glad to see Strasburg defending his privacy and the Nats helping him do it. He's only 21. His post-game press conferences are useful and he's made a good attempt to give his best answers.

But he truly doesn't like to talk about himself. Why should he? But he enjoys any question which is actually about baseball. So, I think, ovber time, you'll see plenty of good Strasburg material, just not self-serving me-me-me stuff.

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Kensington, Md.: Boz-

Intuitively, it makes sense the way the Nats are handling Strasburg, but are there any data or research to back it up? How do mechanics matter? For that matter, do we know that pitchers somehow get stronger and more resilient over time, despite aging and accumulated wear and tear. Perhaps it varies entirely person to person and there are only so many pitches per season or career in an arm and some people are named Prior and others named Clemens.

With that, why is 100 pitches magic? It's a nice round number but is it right? Why not 90? Why not 110? Same thing for number of innings. Is this really more of an "old school" response to "we broke Prior and Wood with too many pitches, so we know that's too many" and Strasburg may very well be doomed the first time he goes 125 in two consecutive starts or 230 innings three years in a row and no one will know until we get there. I'm not hearing anything empirical about this despite it being bandied as the right approach.

Tom Boswell: It's all black magic and guess work. There have been empicical studies. But the only data I find convincing are that tons of pitches __and in stressful situations__ before age 25 tend to damage young arms. But there are even exceptions to that rule of thumb.

The "100" drives everybody crazy. Why a round number? Isn't that a tip off that it's probably just heard think? But I still like the way the Nats are handling Strasburg. Increasing the innings gradually in his early seasons with perhaps 200-205 next year, then more in '12, probably can't do any harm and may help.

However, the game has seen so many young arms that either blewq out young or didn't make it past 30, that there has been a profound protect-the-investment reaction. Fidrych, Fernando, Gooden, Prior, Wood, etc. Some had a bunch of excellent seasons, but not the great full career.

I think your chloice of the word "intuitively" is correct. And, intuitively, I think Strasburg has a good chance to make it to 25 in one piece. If he does, then he could have a long fine career.

If you want to worry, watch a Lincecum start in S.F. He got 10 K's against the O's the other day, but he still doesn't look right to me.

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Rockville, Md.: So how to you think the Nats really feel about the possibility of Strasburg making the All-Star team? Do you think he could get enough starts beforehand to be named the starter? If he pitches a couple innings, would they count against his season total?

Tom Boswell: I hope Strasburg isn't put on the All-Star team. He's had enough spotlight nonsense this season. I think he'd hate it, be distracted by it. Baseball is riding this guy shamelessly. He's wonderful. But let him have some tangible success over a period of time. We know what he's going to become __we saw it in his debut. But that doesn't mean he can consistently be that pitcher every time out as a rookie.

What we have learned so far is the general category into which Strasburg fits. I was among those who tried to reign in expectations, including my own, for a long time. Before his last few games at Syracuse, even wrote about keeping expectations low for '10 __maybe 6-5 with a 4.00 ERA or some such. But it's also important (for a writer) not to miss what's right in front of his eyes. I've covered the arrivals of Fidrych, Valenzuela, Gooden and Clemens to Mussina's era and now the Felix Hernandez, Jimenez, Lincecum generation. Because they were not "local" Washington athletes, there was no danger of annointing them too quickly. But the first time I saw Mussina, I knew what he was. As soon as he backed it up with a couple of more identical starts, there was no doubt. It only took 2-3 looks at the Bird, Fernando, Dwight, the Rocket, King Felix and The Freak to know that they were the real deal __not just stars but huge dominant stars__ at least as long as they were young and healthy. Hurt, who knows? After 30, who knows?

I've seen Strasburg at least 12 times now __far more than all those others__ from Beiijing to his SD St starts to spring training to a half-dozen AA-AAA starts to two MLB. He has a better combination of stuff-command-baseball-intelligence-emotional-stability-competitiveness than any of those others except Gooden, who had a great "feel" for pitching and combined "touch" with stuff and Clemens who wanted to rip your heart out and eat it right there on the mound. So, as long as he's still packing the stuff he has right now, and he seems to have the same cannon every time out, no "dead arm" starts, I think it's reached the point where the same excitment level that we had for a young Seaver, Wood, Prior, Gooden, Palmer is entirely justified. Of course, we know what happened to some of them. That's part of why Strasburg is so fascinating.

One last thought, Gooden was totally rocked in three starts in his rookie year __gave up 21 earned runs in those starts__ and had three other starts where he gave up five earned runs. But he still went 17-9 at age 19 with a 2.60 ERA and 276 Ks in 216 IP. Even if Strasburg gets jacked up a couple of times in the next 10 weeks, I doubt very much that it matters.

In other words, don't expect a 10-1 record, but also do NOT "curb your enthusiasm." Watching the way hitters swing at Strasburg, watching the 0-walk-14K game, then saying, "Lets wait to form an opinion," would be like going to see King Kong on display and saying, "If we come back next week, he probably won't look so big."

Until/if something bad happens to change the pitcher/person we are watching now, this guy is a young King Kong. There have been 50 like him before in 100 years. But only 50.

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Leesburg, VA: Do you think it's possible that Livan is only a 1/2 year player. He's beginning to wear down just like last year.

Tom Boswell: Some in the Nats front office thought that in the spring and hoped to get the most out of him before Wang, Detwiler, Zimmermann came back. But I think he looks far better than in recent years __even early in those years. He needs to be preserved, not burned up, because with Lannan in a funk, Livan ios all you have except Strasburg until, perhaps, the All-Star break.

I didn't like the way Rig left Livan in to the point where he could give up eight runs and blow up his ERA. Now respectful. But I realize that the seventh inning was tricky __out, out, single, single, then suddenly a three-run homer to take Livan's day from bad to horrible.

But he was missing badly on lots of pitches on those all those walks and should have been out after the fifth or sixth to preserve him for his next starts.

It's going to be a while , maybe a long while, before the Nats have five starters better than Hernandez. They should be too quick to fall in love with all their "if" youngsters and the rehab brigade when Livo is PRODUCING one start after another with six innings or more and two runs allowed or less.

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Silver Spring, MD: What a great sports weekend! World Cup for breakfast and US Open for after dinner! PLUS the Haynesworthless watch. Oh, and Strasburg. I was hoping the Nats would move his start to Sat. for the Nationally Televised Fox broadcast. Oh well. Can Stras REALLY make and/or start the All Star game? Hope so.

Tom Boswell: There will be tons of bitterness about the disallowed goal by the U.S. I've already been on the phone with my son, who's a big fan of soccer, including Europe, to hear his outrage. However, since I'm soccer neautral __like it, don't love it__ I saw it differently. I thought the U.S.-Slovenia game was a great showcase for the sport by demonstarting to the general fan, who has come on board for the World Cu, how exciting the sport is for high stakes. Just had you holding your breath every second.

Of course, if the U.S. doesn't advance, then that disallowed goal __seriously, this may be the most totally blown call I've ever seen, not even a shred of a rationale for the call yet that I've heard__ will set back U.S. soccer once again. No fair, but how it is. So, all the more reason to watch the rest of Group C play.

Is Haynesworth now the most despised Redskin in history? I can see his point __that Snyder-Cerrato were so desperate to sign him that they "told him anything" and didn't care if things worked out that way or not. Typical of the last 10 years with Vinnie in the mix. But the Rubicon for Haynesworth was when he took the $21-million bonus after being told by the Redskins, if you take the money, we expect you to play where and how we ask because you're the employee.

Haynesworth lives in such a parrallel universe of the entitled gigantic-from-childhood athlete that I don't think he has any moral compass in such a situation. So, he really doesn't get it. But this will follow him the rest of his life. He will never be remembered primarily as a football player. He will always be a symbol: The guy who said "pay me, then trade me, because I refuse to play for my salary. Suckers."

Of course, he'll end up the loser. You don't want to wear that badge for life.

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Downtown: How come all of the O's pitchers throw 92 mph+ and the Nats pitchers all throw 85-88 mph? Like Ray Knight said the other day, this has been going on for four years now. Don't you think it's time to get a real staff and quit making promises about it?

Tom Boswell: You have nailed the Nats problem. They have two real "arms" among all their starters, then mushballers. And it is catching up with them. For '11, it's Strasburg, presumably Zimmermann and X, Y, Z. A bunch of professional nibblers __Marquis, Lannan, Livan. Olsen and Detwiler have a bit more power. If Wang makes a miracle recovery, which I doubt, he'd be a power pitcher.

On the other hand, the reason that the Orioles are not nearly a bad as they look __at least longer-term__ is because they have far more depth in young quality arms than the Nats. What about Jake Arrienta's first two starts and wins!? Can the SI cover be far behind for him?

By next year, the O's bullpen __with David Hernandez, Simon, Gonzalez, Ohman, Johnson, Berken, Bergesen, in some order__ could be deep and good. Matusz, Guthrie, Arrieta and Tillman (a bad disappointment so far in '10) could become a decent rotation anywhere except the AL East. And they'll have the Millwood money to shop with this off season. They "just" need a 35-40 homer cleanup man (a Dunn) so Markakis, Weiters and Jones can develop their power without pressure. The O's get so little punch from the traditional power positions that it ought to be possible to buy/develop 50 more homers very fast. And they just drafted a SS-2nd prospect No. 3 overall and will get the No. 1 or 2 overall next year.

O's fans, when I listen to Balt talk radio/TV, are much much too depressed. They look so much like the '09 Nats fans __"we'll be horrible forever." Fans seldom look at teams structurally or imagine what they'll look like in just one year with semi-good health or with "normalized" production from key players. Right now for '10, they should care about the development of young players who are performing way below their talent level because of the "disease" of defeat __Weiters, Jones, Markakis (no power), Tillman, etc.

Unfortunately, that doesn't change the problem of the AL East. But the Rays beat it, at least for a few years, with less resources that the O's. TB can't even outdraw the O's right now. Imagine how many people would be in Camden Yards if the O's were 80% as good as the Rays?

In short (a rare quality in this chat), the Nats need good luck with rehab health to have their best-possible rotation in '11. The O's just need time, and one true off-season HR hitter__ to be much, much less awful.

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Rockville: For a while he was the "best player with out a major win" and now he is the best player - just wait and see.

But I wait and wait.

Why so much hype for Mickelson?

Tom Boswell: Phil's fan friendly, charismatic in playing style (like Palmer) and never had much bad press beyond "choker" which he erased with his four major wins. Ten years ago, I didn't have much use for him. I was in the Eddie Haskell school of thought __the class apple polisher who wasn't really what he seemed. But I buy Phil now. He's grown up.

He didn't look good at all yesterday, not a bit like a guy ready to back his Masters win up with an Open so he could go to the British with the whole golf world following his every move. He'll be teeing off soon, probably with me in his wake. So, we'll see.

Oh, to directly answer your question: Why so much hype?

Talent, talent, talent. If Nicklaus or Woods had hit every putt of his career from six-feet-or-less, he'd have 10 majors right now.

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Seattle, Wash.: Boz, in our ballpark here in Seattle you can get sushi, my favorite is the "Ichi-roll." Any chance Nats park introduces a "Strasburger"?

washingtonpost.com: Believe it or not, two already exist, and The Post's Tom Sietsema reviewed them both this week.

Tom Boswell: Oh, you're already too late!

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Herndon: Can you explain what has become a pet peeve of mine. Tiger is often called the most famous athlete in the world on broadcasts and by fellow golfers, but it just doesn't seem possible. Golf isn't an everyman sport in the rest of the world and it would seem that an African or South American soccer player who has had success in Europe would have to be the most famous athlete. Yes I know kind of a silly thing to get upset about.

Tom Boswell: Golf has a huge following in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand. That's a lot of the world. And China loves the big "world athletes." So, it's not crazy. Or it wasn't two years ago when he walked off Torrey Pines.

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Blown World Cup Call: I'm as upset as any US fan about the disallowed goal, but in fairness to the ref, we never should have had the free kick in the first place. Altidore took a dive just outside the box.

The bad ref giveth and he taketh away.

Tom Boswell: A good point. I was packing to head to the course and blinked and missed the "dive," if that's correct.

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Arlington, Va.: What to look for at a Nats game when Stasburg isn't pitching?

Zim on defense and at the plate; Dunn, Willingham, Desmond and Pudge? Waiting for the bullpen? Performance of the Nats players in center and right fields?

Have I answered my question?

Tom Boswell: Man, you've gotta be tough to please not to find the nats entertaining now. (I don't mean you, Arlington. You did indeed answer your won question.) In a few weeks, you'll see Detwiler, maybe Stammen (who has good-quality back of the rotation stuff) and others coming back to semi-fix the rotation, which is the only major problem.

How many respectable 70-75-win teams, which is probably what the Nats still are, can offer you a slugger who's one homer out of the league lead, a golg-glove silver-slugger 3rd baseman, a future HOF catcher who's hitting .340, the MLB saves leader in Capps (who's a perfectly nice closer) and a deep fun Clip-Store-and-Save bullpen. Also, Desmond, Storen and perhaps Bernadina often far more rookie potential to enjoy/debate than most teams. When Jordan Zimmermann comes back...

Actually, the Nats are MORE entertaining than they are good.

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Lakers-Celtics Final: I believe Basketball is the only sport where I've actually seen a regression in talent. The teams in last night's game would've been crushed by Magic's Lakers, Bird's Celtics, Jordan's Bulls, or Isaiah's Pistons. It may have been game 7 Laker's vs. Celtics but it sure didn't feel like it did in the mid-late 80s.

Tom Boswell: No sport can maintain a Golden Age forever. And the '80's here for the NBA. But the current game, while loaded with talent, is just out of kilter in a way I can't put my finger on. There are periods when baseball has had too much or too little scoring and the game needed "tweaking." You don't say, "Baseball has lost it." You say, "Baseball needs to get its act together." When you semi-lose somebody like me who's been a fan from the late '50's through the '90's when I was still in NBA fantasy leagues and knew who got how many rebounds in every game in the league every night, you need to address the aesthetic balances between offense and defense, etc.

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Jacksonville: I know you're a Dunn fan, but there's going to be a lot of talent at 1B in this year's free agent class. Isn't there potential for an upgrade? Or does the fact that he locves DC, is a great clubhouse guy, etc. make up for some of the numbers?

Tom Boswell: The only thing wrong with Dunn this year is that his distribution of solo homers to multi-run shots is abnormal. A fluke. And it will even out and he'll be what he always is: 40 homers, 100 RBI, 110+ walks. He's on pace for 39 homers and 93 RBI now. And he's red hot.

It's actually tougher to face any hitter with men on base because a walk puts MORE men on base. And then you have to face Willingham, who's one of the top 15 sluggers. The Nats hitting with RISP and Dunn's RBI will almost certainly improve. That's why you play 162 games. It;s just like Livan's 2.10 ERA. It wasn't going to last. And Pudge isn't going to keep hitting. 340. I just don't understand why fans don;t get this. Sure, there are exceptions. But in baseball, assuming a reversion to long-established norms is almost always the correct assumption.

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Haynesworth-less: Really, Boz, what can the Skins mgmt do to ole' Albert? Can they sue him in civil court for breach of contract? Seems to me that Haynesworth, the jerk that he is, has the upper hand in this situation.

Tom Boswell: I believe that, in past chats, I m,ade it clear LONG ago that it should be obvious that Haynesworth's goal was to do anything and everything to get traded. It was the "elephant in the room." How the Redskins missed it, and handed over the $21-million, is beyond me. I'd have traded him for a used blocking sled, if that's all he would have fetched, before I'd have handed over that check. At every step, they just couldn't stand to lose face, couldn't believe the nightmare could get worse, couldn't believe that the final accounting of loses __in money, time, team distraction__ could get worse. But it has.

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Alexandria, VA: How good is the back end of the Nats bullpen? I was at SS's first game, and Clippard, Storen, and Capps were all throwing 92+. The starters may not bring much heat, but the bullpen can be something to watch.

Tom Boswell: It's a legit pretty-darn-good power bullpen. Which is what Rizzo wanted. And Burnett just seems to get enough guys out with his funky delivery, which even he says he doesn't un derstand, to provide a LH arm.

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Koufax: I know Koufax threw the fastball and twelve to six curve (Willie Mays said he telegraphed one of them because his thumb would be sticking out, and he still couldn't hit it) but did the great Sanford have any other pitches that he relied on beyond the big two?

Tom Boswell: I never saw a third pitch. And I was playing in high school and frosh college __iow, a complete baseball addict__ when he was at his peak. So, I think I'd have known. But if he did have a third pitch, I'd love to know about it. 'Cause I was still a teenager.

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Pebble: Tom Watson just went 2-under through 10 today. Will he make the weekend?

Tom Boswell: He just bogeyed the 11th. So, probably not.

But we'll always have Paris. (Okay, Muirfield.)

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Nattaboy: Tom - LOVE all your work.

Question - do the Nats brass sense the window of opportunity right now in 2010 to turn Strasburg fans into Nationals fans, and will it influence them to be buyers this deadline - even if playoff contention is out of reach?

Thanks! P.S.: Tell Lefty to get going for me - snagged him in my office pool

Tom Boswell: Thanks. The Nats need to make sure that this does not become a season that disintegrates around Strasburg. There's no reason it should. But the time to make fans is now.

Nonetheless, it wasn't until I got here to the Open with hundreds of reporters and tons of columnists, that I got a full sense of what a national event Strasburg is and how much the Nats image has changed. Part of it is the usual nonsense: unless ESPN beats a player, team or sport into your brain 24/7, it doesn't officially exist in U.S. sports culture. ESPN is a lowest-common-denominator money machine. You can't blame them (too much) for ringing the register by belaboring the same stories and celebs, the 10-millionth dunk highlight or webgem, until you want to scream. I mean, what has Lebron James ever won and who cares (after the 100th reiteration) where he plays next year?

But now we see the opposite side of it. When somebody from your town gets on the right side of the hype machine, it changes the perception of the player/team/town.

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Fairfax, Va.: Boz, reversion to the mean is indeed very important in baseball. That being said, how can you tell when someone has made a true jump in either direction?

Tom Boswell: The trend line on Ryan Zimmerman's power is up __'08-to-'09-to'10 and rising! His early-season injury has disguised it. How do you tell something like that is happening? I don't know. But in this case, I think I sense it.

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Strasburg and Koufax: So if Koufax only threw the big two, why does Strasburg throw a hittable straight change at 91 with his heater at 98 and a break-you-off-at-the-kneecaps curve at 79? Isn't the breaking pitch an effective change of speed in its own right?

Tom Boswell: Nothing wrong with a changeup that acts like a spplitter. The "average" changeup is a problem for a power pitcher. Sam McDowell was in love with his and hitters waited all day just to get one of 'em and ruin his game. But Strasburg's has enough action, more than he had in college, that it's worth the risk of being a "hitting-speed" pitch around 90.

But it's subject worth revisiting. We'll see how often and how well Pudge calls it.

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Alexandria, VA: Bos:

I've got tickets to tonight's game! But they are way out in Left Center by the Red Loft.

I'm assuming it will be difficult to see the break on the pitches from there, what should I look for instead? Other than the experience of being at Nat's Park with 40,000, what should I be looking for tonight?

Thanks!

Tom Boswell: Look for the quality of the hitter's swing. Or lack of it. Not many pitchers can make a hitter look silly from 400 feet away. Strasburg can.

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Tampa, FL: Boz, I realize this question would have seemed blasphemous until recently, but would the Nationals ever consider sending Lannan down? There seem to be only two possibilities here: (a) there's something wrong with Lannan, either physically or mentally; or (b) Lannan was always luckier than he was good (low strikeouts, never overpowering), and hitters have finally figured him out. To me, the latter possibility is much more troubling, because it would mean that Lannan's chances of remaining an established piece of the team's starting rotation could be in real jeopardy. In the short term, might it be better to send him down for now and replace him with Craig Stammen. At best, Lannan will never be a better pitcher than he has been the past two seasons; at worst, he might stay what he is this season. Stammen, meanwhile, for all his own struggles, seems to me to have more raw potential than Lannan, and I'd like to see him get more time to prove it. Am I being too hasty in my assessments of Lannan and Stammen?

Tom Boswell: Be very patient with Lannan and somewhat patient with Stammen.

I understand the stat argument on Lannan, that he was somehow lucky for two years. He also had just about the worst run support in baseball both years. He is a one pitch pitcher __a sinker that looks like fresh meat but produces infinite ground balls and tons of DPs. There are such creatures. Sure, he has other pitches. But the sinker is life-and-death to him. Give him a chance to get it back. Steady lefties with 3.90 ERAs aren't that easy to find.

However, as soon as I saw what a wonderful job he'd done of conditioning himself in the off-season __working out so much that I didn't recognize him at first__ I immediately said to another report, "Oh, hell. Lannan has decidd to be an athlete. There goes his dead-fish sinker. It'll straighten out." I thought I was joking. And it seems ridiculous. I suspect it's arm slot or mechanics and that he'll get it back. But I thought he'd be a solid part of the rotation for years. You can't toss somebody like that away. Send him back out there until all your teeth hurt every time he winds up. Then send him out there some more.

See you all next week! Have a merry Strasmas tonight.

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