Nationals still looking for a lefty, interested in Eric O’Flaherty
If the Nationals do not sign a left-handed reliever off the free agent market, it will not be for lack of a broad search.
The latest name to add to the list of southpaws the Nationals have expressed interest in, a person familiar with the situation said, is Eric O’Flaherty, a dominant Braves reliever coming off elbow reconstruction surgery.
The Nationals have not yet given him an offer, but they have maintained dialogue with O’Flaherty, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball for the Nationals’ preeminent NL East rival. The Nationals are one of six teams to have shown interest in O’Flaherty.
O’Flaherty would come with nontrivial injury risk. Last May, O’Flaherty, who will turn 29 in February, underwent Tommy John surgery on his lefty elbow. In 2014, he would have to sit out until early-to-mid May.
Even if O’Flaherty will miss a month, his signing could represent great value. If not for surgery, O’Flaherty may well have drawn interest as a closer on the free agent market. Now, though, he is seeking only a one-year deal to re-established himself as a backend reliever.
Over the past four seasons, O’Flaherty has punched up a 1.68 ERA over 193 innings, averaging 54 appearances despite not pitching after May 17 in 2013. He steamrolled the Nationals, allowing them to hit .181 against him over his career. He faced the Nationals 21 times over the past three years and did not allow a single earned run.
O’Flaherty joins a long list of possible targets for the Nationals, whose need for a lefty reliever grew more start after they included Ian Krol in the package that acquired Doug Fister from Detroit.
The Nationals had dialogue with both Manny Parra and Javier Lopez before they re-signed with the Reds and Giants, respectfully. They have also shown interest in Boone Logan, Scott Downs, J.P. Howell and Oliver Perez, according to a people familiar with the situation. (The interest in Downs, whom the Braves traded for last year to replace O’Flaherty, was first reported by MLB.com.)
“We think that’s one of the things we have to address,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday. “We have in-house options there. I think we’re better suited going into spring training with our left-handed bullpen than we did last year. But it’s something that we’re looking into the free agent market or the trade market and trying to upgrade. It’s a spot that we feel that we have to upgrade at. That said, I think we have some in-house options that can perform at a high level for us.”
Ross Detwiler wants to start, feeling ’100 percent’ healthy
Early Tuesday morning, when he reported for his usual workout, Ross Detwiler still did not know the Nationals had traded for Doug Fister the night before. Detwiler’s trainer back home in Missouri happens to be a Detroit Tigers fan, and so he knew. And that is how the person the deal may affect most found out: His personal trainer told him.
Later Tuesday, the ramifications of Fister’s addition for Detwiler became clear. General Manager Mike Rizzo was asked if the fifth rotation spot belonged to Detwiler, who missed the last half of 2013 with a herniated disk. Rizzo instead ticked off a list of names. Detwiler, part of the Nationals’ opening day rotation the past two years, would have to fight for his spot in spring training.
“I didn’t know there was going to be an open competition for the last spot,” Detwiler said. “Oh, well. I’ve gone into every year since I got here like that. So why change that now?”
Reached this afternoon over the phone, Detwiler seemed disappointed but accepting of the challenge. He feels good about his health, having thrown his fastball between 94 and 96 miles per hour this fall rehabbing in the instructional league. He noted he has always performed well during spring training and said he would focus on his work and opposing hitters -- not on his status -- once spring arrives.
“I’m not looking at gaining or losing a spot, really,” Detwiler said. “If I throw well, it’s going to be there. If I [stink], then it won’t.”
Over the last three seasons, Detwiler has been a consistent, sometimes excellent starter when healthy. He pitched to a 3.62 ERA in 50 starts while also making 11 appearances a reliever. In Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS, Detwiler delivered one of the most clutch pitching performances in the team’s brief history, six three-hit innings in which he allowed the Cardinals no earned runs.
And still, Rizzo mentioned Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, Nate Karns and Sammy Solis as pitchers who would enter spring on equal footing as Detwiler. Rizzo has also broached the idea of Detwiler filling the Nationals’ need for a lefty in the bullpen should he not make the rotation.
“When I go out there, if that’s me starting or coming out of the bullpen, it’s not up to me,” Detwiler said. “If it’s up to me, I’m going to be a starter. But those aren’t my decisions.”
If any question about Detwiler’s efficacy as a starter persists, it concerns his endurance. He has recorded just one out past the seventh inning in his career. A heavy reliance on his sinker can make him vulnerable deeper in games: batters facing him for the third time in a game have hit .314/.366/.493 over the course of his career.
Detwiler has also proven he can be dominant out of the bullpen. In 32 1/3 career relief innings, he has a 1.11 ERA while holding opponents to a .173 average. But his excellence (over a small sample) as a reliever should not be held against him as he tries to win a rotation spot. A former No. 6 overall pick, Detwiler is still just 27 and at times has shown top-of-the-rotation stuff. If he’s healthy, making him a reliever now may be pulling the plug too soon.
And, after a trying year, he is healthy. Detwiler said he has felt “100 percent” since a stint in the instructional league in September. In Detwiler’s final rehab start in Viera, Fla., he threw between 80 and 90 pitches over six innings, his fastball zipping at 94-96 mph and touching 97.
“The biggest thing for me down there was over-throwing, really,” Detwiler said. “I was so excited to be out there.”
For all but one month in 2013, Detwiler’s back ailed him. On May 10, late in a win over the Cubs, he felt something like a cramp in the left side of his back. His ERA then, after seven starts, stood at 2.53.
The soreness stayed with him, and he rehabbed between starts. Five days later, Detwiler overcompensated with his mechanics and strained an oblique in the right side of his lower back. He landed on the disabled list and would not return until June 13. Even when he rejoined the rotation, he never felt right.
“The oblique was overcompensating for whatever else wasn’t going right,” Detwiler said. “Everything gave out at once.”
He made five more starts. His weakened back led to wayward mechanics, which led to leaving pitches up, which led to an erosion of confidence. He punched up a 6.31 ERA after coming off the disabled list and made his last start of the season July 3.
Detwiler’s rehab finally concluded with his appearance in the instructional league, typically a place for low-level minor leaguers. “I don’t think I’ll have to deal with that,” Detwiler said. “I haven’t felt it at all.”
Before he split for the winter, Detwiler met with Nationals strength coaches John Philbin and Matt Eiden. They tweaked his offseason weightlifting regimen to focus on stabilizing his back, tailored specifically for his mechanics.
“Instead of doing a generic workout that all healthy people do, something is pointed at exactly what I’ve had wrong,” Detwiler said. “With all the back stabilization, I think I’m going to be stronger than I was in the past.”
Detwiler will be healthy when he arrives in Viera for spring training, and when he has been healthy for the past three years he has been a legitimate, middle-of-the-rotation major league starter. The rest is not certain, even if it seemed it was before Tuesday morning.
Ryan Zimmerman on staying at third base, Matt Williams and Doug Fister
Wednesday evening, Ryan Zimmerman sat next Cal Ripken, his boyhood idol, and listened as he described changing positions. For Ripken, the late-career move from shortstop to third base provided a larger mental hurdle than physical challenge. “It’s between your ears to be willing to do it,” Ripken said. “The hardest part for anyone is to embrace what the move is all about.”
Zimmerman is not ready to embrace a move, and neither are the Nationals. Speaking at a fundraiser for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, Zimmerman said the Nationals have given him every indication he will remain at third base for at least the 2014 season. Having moved past last winter’s shoulder surgery mentally as much as physically Zimmerman believes he can shed the throwing woes that undermined his 2013 season.
“Like I’ve said all along, if someone is better than me, I’ll move,” Zimmerman said. “Going through the shoulder issues that I’ve been through, really the last two, two and a half years, I feel like I got over that hump.”
A move from third to first base for Zimmerman, which has long been considered a feasible option inside and outside the organization, would clear the way for Anthony Rendon to play third base, his natural position. Though a move now would force the Nationals to trade Adam LaRoche (and likely eat a portion of his salary), it would also make a potential run at free agent Robinson Cano more likely.
But all of that exists as pure speculation, and it will apparently remain a hypothetical until at least the start of 2014. General Manager Mike Rizzo has committed to Adam LaRoche as his first baseman, and he has told Zimmerman he wants him to stay at third.
“They’ve been supportive the whole time,” said Zimmerman, whose six-year, $100 million contract will begin this year. “Mike wants me to stay at third with what they’ve invested in me, obviously. I think he knows that I’m working as hard as I can to stay there.”
Zimmerman underwent surgery in November
2013 2012 to repair an inflamed AC joint and also repair fraying in his rotator cuff and labrum. The rehab stretched into spring training, and once the year started Zimmerman continued to fight mechanical changes and the nasty thoughts that came with them.
“It was a tough year,” Zimmerman said. “It was the first time ever on a baseball field where I felt uncomfortable. I think the hardest part was not the physical part, but the mental part of going out there and having to go through that and beat it, I guess. Once I got over that, my confidence grew a little bit. It was part of a process that I think will make me better in the long run. As of now, I feel good to go.”
Zimmerman’s offseason has included one major change. His wife, Heather, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter, two weeks ago. (“We were talking about kids and not getting any sleep,” Ripken said.) From a baseball standpoint, his health has allowed him a refreshing return to routine.
“It’s kind of nice,” Zimmerman said. “I can just do what I usually do, work out the way I’ve always worked out, just get ready for spring and the second week of February. It’s been a nice offseason, actually.”
The spring will bring another change, the fifth full-time manager of his career. Zimmerman has only corresponded with Matt Williams by texting, and he said he plans to meet Williams later this week when Williams travels to Washington.
“When he was the third base coach in Arizona, I chatted with him a little bit,” Zimmerman said. “He wasn’t too talkative as a third base coach. I kind of like that, I think. The guys that talk too much kind of annoy you a little bit. You worry if they really care about the game. With Matt, you could tell he was focused. [Judging from] the guys that I’ve talked to that have talked to him, obviously the type of player he was, I’m pretty excited to sit down and see what his plans are. I’m excited about the year.”
Zimmerman also applauded the Nationals’ first major acquisition, Monday’s swap with the Tigers for Doug Fister. He viewed it as a prudent, win-now move.
“I think Mike Rizzo has done a lot of things that make sense,” Zimmerman said. “Doug has got two years left of arbitration, so you get a solid No. 3 starter for not much contractual obligation. We lose a guy like [Steve Lombardozzi] and [Ian] Krol who helped us out, and a young pitcher that a year and a half, two years down the line could be a good pitcher at the big league level. With where we’re at now as an organization, I think we’re ready to win now. To win in this league and to go deep into the playoffs, you have to have pitching. To throw a guy like Doug in there as a No. 4, if you want to call him that, gives you a lot of depth.”
Zimmerman joined Ripken at the Four Seasons in Georgetown to support Ripken’s fund-raiser. The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation supports at-risk youth and has grown from a local charity into a national program.
“I don’t think it’s a secret growing up, Cal was one of the guys I idolized, along with millions of people around this area,” Zimmerman said. “I think we both do a lot of charity work and things off the field, which unfortunately nowadays is not as common as it used to be. I feel like more and more, there’s not guys to look up to like Cal. It’s nice to be here and be able to team up with him and help him come into this area that I can call home now.”
Former National Mark DeRosa joining MLB Network
Mark DeRosa played only one season for the Washington Nationals yet was among the most beloved teammates in recent team history. At the time, the utility man was 37 years old, in his 15th major league season and spent most of the year on the disabled list. He played a major role behind the scenes, though.
He was seen as the team dad, mentor, an additional hitting coach, team comedian and a friend. He disagreed with Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown but understood the reasoning and consoled the right-handed pitcher after his season ended. He often commandeered the karaoke machine in the clubhouse and sang or told jokes. He was the veteran who served as a sounding board for his teammates. He may be remembered most for reading an inspirational speech from Theodore Roosevelt to teammates before 2012 NLDS Game 4.
But now, after spending the 2013 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, DeRosa has called his playing career quits and is embarking on a new challenge. A day after retiring despite having his 2014 option picked up by the Blue Jays, DeRosa joined MLB Network as an analyst. The 38-year-old will appear on the show “MLB Tonight” throughout the season and make his debut as a regular analyst at 3 p.m. Monday at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista.
After playing for eight teams over 16 years and winning a World Series title with the 2010 San Francisco Giants, DeRosa decided that he wanted to be around more for his wife and his children, ages 4 and 10. Flying home to Atlanta on offdays to spend time with the family was tiring for everyone.
“And, I wanted to be great at something again,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was going to be 39 years old and going to be a backup again in Toronto. I love being in the big leagues and wouldn’t trade that for anything, but at the same time, not necessarily the opportunity to be great anymore.”
People in baseball and even his teammates always felt that DeRosa, who has a lighthearted demeanor and sharp baseball eye, would make a great coach, manager or television analyst one day. He was a guest analyst for MLB Network during the 2011 and 2013 postseasons and loved the experience. The MLB Network studios are in Secaucus, N.J., “walking distance” from where DeRosa grew up, and his new job will allow him to spend more time with family there, too. He is also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
“I just loved being in the studio,” DeRosa said. “I love being around that guy. I felt [MLB Network analysts] knew what they were talking about, they knew how to pinpoint it. It’s not like the players listening in the clubhouse are going, ‘These guys have no clue.’ This is 100 percent accurate. They love the game, they are passionate, they love what they do and I thought I could be a part of that.”
DeRosa admits still feeling nervous whenever he is about to go on television. He finds comfort in his ability to talk about the game because he has been “on so many different teams and been taught under so many different coaching philosophies and hitting philosophies,” he said. “I kinda know what every guy is thinking.”
DeRosa said his retirement from the game is final, and he isn’t coming back. He has thought about trying his hand at coaching, but not in the near future because of the time commitment. “I feel like the coaches spend more time at the field than the players do,” he said.
DeRosa said he will miss playing baseball in the majors and the camaraderie with teammates. Much like the Nationals, his last team, the Blue Jays, began the season with sky-high expectations as a World Series contender after high-profile winter acquisitions but missed the playoffs after a disappointing season. DeRosa didn’t keep up with the Nationals’ 2013 season as much as he would have liked but still stays in frequent touch with many of the team’s players. Even after only one season in Washington, his name came up often during the 2013 season.
“I stay in touch with a lot of the guys,” DeRosa said. “I talk to [Jayson] Werth constantly, [Ryan] Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and me shoot texts, and [Ian] Desmond. I probably stay as close to Desmond as anyone on the team. And just had a nice conversation with Danny Espinosa and a nice conversation with Steve Lombardozzi after he got traded the other night. I had a blast in Washington. I love that team. They were a few good bounces away from getting to the World Series and winning it. They’re that talented of a team.”
DeRosa said he talked with Espinosa recently, after the season, to “see where his head was at, how he feels, healthy, confident, all that stuff,” he said. “I’ve been in those shoes.” DeRosa sent Lombardozzi a text message to check on him after the Doug Fister trade was announced and the two talked.
“I got the feeling from the same way I reacted when I was first traded,” DeRosa said of his conversation with Lombardozzi. “You’re kind of in shock. You always watch trades from afar and you never really concern yourself with it and then you’re involved in it and it changes your entire mind. I just told him that I wanted to see if he was happy with the move, if he was disappointed, what did he think about it and sometimes the grass isn’t always greener for everybody. For me, it was. For me, getting out of Atlanta was the best thing that could have ever happened to my career.”
Despite a disappointing season, DeRosa believes the Nationals will be a serious contender in 2014.
“They’re as good as it gets. Mike Rizzo might as well go sign Robinson Cano and end this thing,” said DeRosa with a laugh. “Their starting rotation, if [Ross] Detwiler can get back to where he was in 2012, I love Fister and I say that because I totally just hated facing him. He has one of the better sinkers in the game. Five quality starters in the rotation. Guys are hungry. Zimmerman looks like he finally feels good over at third base, which will help. I personally think they’re a team that can win the whole thing. Certain things just have to go their way.
Many observers, even former Manager Davey Johnson, felt the Nationals and their young players struggled with the pressure and attention of being a preseason World Series favorite. DeRosa didn’t agree that pressure like that can undermine a season.
“I felt like in Toronto there was a lot of media pressure and exposure away from the inner sanctum of the clubhouse,” DeRosa said. “I felt like [when] Davey kinda came out and said, ‘World Series or bust,’ that put the pressure solely on the players. Obviously they feel like they let people down but I don’t think they’re thinking like that. Things didn’t go their way. In talking to Desmond he seemed to say to me throughout the year that they’re not trying to make excuses but every blooper is falling and every line bullet at somebody is being caught.”
DeRosa spoke highly of the Nationals’ new acquisition, Fister. He faced Fister six times in his career and managed only one hit. Despite being 6-foot-8, Fister has a quick windup and works quickly, DeRosa said. While Fister has a unique arm angle, DeRosa said Fister thrives with a strong sinker and great command of it.
“He’s got one of those sinkers that obliterates the inner half of the plate,” DeRosa said. “It’s got so much movement on it that half the time to three-quarters of the time the ball, if you take, it ends up being a ball but it looks so appetizing for 55 feet that you go after it. I would assume that Ryan Zimmerman is going to be getting a heck of a lot of groundballs when he’s on the mound.”
Doug Fister excited to join the Nationals
Doug Fister has been a Washington National for less than a day and, on Tuesday afternoon, he spoke with reporters via conference call. The 29-year-old and Merced, Calif., native touched on a number of subjects, from his groundball-heavy pitching style to his thoughts on being shipped to Washington by Detroit to having Adam LaRoche’s number in his cell phone. Fister, a 6-foot-8 right-hander who has a career 3.53 ERA, has averaged 3.48 ERA and 189 innings over the past four seasons. This was the second trade of his career; he was traded from Seattle to Detroit on in July 2011.
What was your reaction to the trade?
“There were some rumors going around that we were both kind of being out there and we were both just gonna see how things played out. Finally last night, the phone call was made and things were working out the way that things had worked out. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to too many of the guys back in Detroit yet but I’m definitely excited to be on the hunt for D.C. I’m looking forward to getting out there, getting going in spring training and being ready. I’m excited.”
What do you think about joining another standout starting rotation?
“Coming from Detroit, obviously we had a great staff. It was such an honor to be a part of the staff that we had there with Scherzer and Verlander and everybody else, but coming in to D.C. now, it’s going to be the same thing with [Stephen] Strasburg and [Jordan] Zimmermann and [Gio] Gonzalez and [Ross] Detwiler. All those guys, I’m looking forward to being in there. They’ve all got quite a bit of experience, they’ve all got great stuff and I’ve heard that they’re great teammates. It’s one of those things that I’m definitely looking forward to being a part of and being able to be surrounded by such terrific pitchers.”
Are you sad to leave Detroit, where you’ve spent over two and a half seasons?
“It’s definitely a surprise when you get the phone call that lets you know you’re being traded. But it’s always, you’re a world of mixed emotions. There’s friendships and brotherhood and everything that I’ll be leaving, but I’m thoroughly excited to be heading to the Nationals. It’s one of those things that I’ve come to realize that I want to know a lot of guys in the league and have some experiences to play in the NL, play in the AL and be able to have those experiences and be able to have the relationships that we have. I’m looking forward to being able to get to know those guys.”
What do you think about joining another team with big playoff hopes?
“There’s a lot of excitement for me. I was able to talk to [General Manager Mike] Rizzo and I was able to talk to [Manager] Matt [Williams] and I know just talking to them, there’s a lot of excitement on their end, but there’s a lot of excitement for me, knowing the teammates that I’m going to be playing with this year, knowing the coaches and everyone that’s involved in not only that, but the ballpark, the fans, everybody that’s involved. It’s a big league ball club that is right on the right track to being in the postseason. I see it, I’m excited to be a part of it, and hopefully that’s exactly where we take it this year.”
Have you heard from any new teammates?
“I’ve had a couple welcoming text messages and phone calls from the guys. Ian Desmond was one of the ones this morning. I’ve got [Adam] LaRoche’s phone number to get a hold of him, too. These guys are definitely welcoming me with open arms. It’s definitely a family atmosphere already. I’m definitely looking forward to meeting these guys in person. I don’t really know too many of them on a very in-depth level. I’m looking forward to that opportunity. There’s some great individuals over there who make up a great team. I’m definitely looking forward to that opportunity.”
What do you think about changing leagues?
“When I’m up on the mound, I’m going to do the same thing and try to get hitters out. I know that obviously things are a little different having to face pitchers and having to hit ourselves. I’m excited to be able to grab a bat again and work on my swing. I don’t think that that’s going to change anything of my pitching style. I’m still going out there trying to pitch to our defense. Look at the defense that will be playing out there day after day after day. I think we’ve got a couple Gold Glovers and a runner-up. Again, it’s something for me, I’m coming in looking at it as, I’m blessed. I’m blessed to have a team that is on the rise and right where it needs to be. It has a great defense, a great offense. I’d be foolish not to use them. I’m looking forward to having that defense.”
Your groundball rate has increased each season. What that a goal?
“It’s definitely a bullet point in my pitching perspective. I’m going out there trying to induce groundballs, induce bad contact as early in the count as possible. My job is to get through seven innings and keep zeroes on the board for our offense to get out there and swing it. If I can get that done, that’s my main focus. If I can get past that, that’s icing on the cake and I’m excited about it. But it’s one of those things, I want to get groundballs. I want to use our defense, utilize the talent that we have out there. That’s always been one of my main goals. For me, I’d be foolish not to attack that way. My main pitching sequence is a sinker. I try to attack with that.”
What do you think about getting to hit in NL?
“I joke when I say it but I hit through college and it wasn’t pretty at any time but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to consistently go out there and be able to swing it, but talking to a couple of my old teammates, guys that we worked in the offseason to get trained with and old coaches and just trying to get as many pointers as possible, trying to get back in the swing of things. So it’s one of those things that I don’t take for granted or I don’t take lightly. It’s part of the job now. It’s definitely been part of the job when we’re in interleague. So it’s something I want to be proficient at. I want to make sure I get my bunts down. I want to make sure I can move a runner when I need to and to put it in play. I’m taking it very seriously.”
You seem calm about the trade. Is that a personality trait?
“It definitely helps being traded once before in my career. I’m not taking it lightly by any means. I’m excited for it but I’m trying to take it with a level head and to really just kind of focus on getting ready this year, in Viera for spring and be able to get ready for Washington. Just like when I pitch, I try to stay on an even keel and to really just keep things as even as possible. So not trying to get too high, too low, too excited, too anything. So I’m just trying to take it in stride, one step at a time.”
After Prince Fielder was traded to Texas, did you think big changes were afoot in Detroit?
“It definitely took me by surprise that Prince got traded. He was a great attribute for the Tigers and was a great teammate. I think that the trade is going to benefit both sides. Detroit adding [Ian] Kinsler in the infield and Prince going to be able to hit in Texas is good for both sides. I know that [Detroit General Manager Dave] Dombrowski is trying to make a couple, few changes.”
You’ve allowed only 16 stolen bases in five seasons. How important is that part of your game?
“That is definitely a focal point, especially in bullpen sessions and spring training. If I can work on things, work on timing, work on the mixing up of my delivery to where I can make it a second-nature type feeling that I don’t have to think about during the season, that’s my goal. I want to be able to control the running game and help the catcher out as much as possible. Obviously, there’s still fast guys that want to take a chance and obviously there were stolen bases last year. But I want to limit it as much as possible. I want to give our team the best chance to win as possible and that’s one little thing that can turn into a big thing.”
Some of your statistics rank highly, even in the top 10, over the past three seasons but with little fanfare. Why do you think that is the case?
“I’m not real positive on that. It’s a matter of I like to get out there, I like to pitch and leave all the assumptions and any sort of expectations to everybody else. I like to leave those kind of things alone and let somebody else take those by the reins.”