It’s the obvious question following Stephen Strasburg’s debut on Tuesday. And, for now, manager Jim Riggleman is sticking pretty close to a “never say never” approach:
“The consensus of this organization, top to bottom, is that the plan is
to start him in the minor leagues,” said his manager, Jim Riggleman.
“But I’m not saying that — because we might eat those words. So we’re
leaving that open, in case something unforeseen changes our mind.”
The Nationals have been conservative about Strasburg’s ETA, but even Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider has picked up on Riggleman’s change of tone:
So the question had to be asked again this afternoon: Is Strasburg
competing for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Jim Riggleman’s answer
was slightly tweaked from previous ones.
“We’ll make a decision
about whether he’s on the ballclub or not,” the manager said. “But I
think in his mind, he’s doing the right thing. He’s just competing to
get hitters out, and if that puts him on the ballclub, that would be his
wish I’m sure. I guess indirectly, he is competing for a spot on the
club in his mind. We’ll make that call as an organization. But as far as
he knows, he’s like everybody else trying to make the club.”
talk of “respecting the process.” No “unlikely” qualifiers. No firm
answer one way or the other.
Maybe it’s the increased focus on youth in this game, but with Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman and Jason Heyward, I can’t remember a time where we had three more promising young players in spring training with legitimate chances to contribute in the major leagues right away. It’s a great time to be a baseball fan, regardless of your rooting interest.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉