A Correction: A correction and an apology is in order. After Thursday's disappointing loss to the Phillies, I wrote that the Nationals would be cellar-dwellers from start to finish this year. That was clearly wrong -- and not just as point of poor prognostication. It was wrong, as a statement of fact, at the time I wrote it. Unbeknownst to me, the Phillies had already fallen behind the Nationals. A simple check of the standings would have shown that I was misinformed. This is only my first official correction, but I hope to do better and avoid the need to publish any future corrections.
Tonight, the Nationals play in Florida, with the chance to move past the Marlins, and into third place in the division. Who woulda thunk it?
Though it is really early to make a definitive assessment, it appears that the Nationals were correct in not re-signing Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas, Jr. The Nationals decided instead to try and and find younger pitchers with more potential. The suspect candidates included a number of castoffs, and a few promising young hurlers within the Nats' own system. The choice seemed to defy logic. The pitchers being brought in from the outside could not be expected to match even the mediocre efforts produced by Armas and Ortiz, and the Nats' own prospects had struggled tofind spots in the rotation alongside Armas and Ortiz.
In truth, only one of the outside tryout candidates has made any impact. Most were complete busts. Jerome Williams did make the starting rotation, even though he has shown the least potential of the Nats' five starting pitchers. Still, Williams seems to have a firm grasp on the fifth spot, and hasn't pitched badly. Ramon Ortiz has been excellent for the Minnesota Twins. This, however, could not have been predicted. Ortiz, himself, actually credits the Twins' own Johan Santana for adding a new, highly effective pitch to Ortiz' repertoire. Though Ortiz is flourishing, Tony Armas has struggled mightily with his new team.
However, one cannot judge the Nationals' decision by comparing the results of the Nats' own pitchers with those they let go. The Nationals are building for the future. They need to find out what Patterson, Hill, Bergmann, Chico and Williams have to offer -- to see which of them will be part of that future.
The most surprising and exciting thing is that each of the Nationals' starters shows some promise, with the possible exception of the one somewhat proven quantity -- John Patterson, who still needs to build up his arm strength, following surgery last year. It will be a bonus if this motley crew can lift the Nats to respectability this year. Chico throws tonight, as the Nats hope to ride their momentum into third place -- a position that, only ten days ago, no one dared to think was still possible.