Nats trade O'Connor

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Needing to clear space in their Class AAA Syracuse rotation for the return of Matt Chico from elbow surgery, the Nationals on Tuesday night traded left-hander Mike O’Connor, parting with the 28-year-old pitcher who’s fallen far off the list of Washington’s pitching prospects.

The Nationals sent O’Connor to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later, but the real benefit of the move, as acting GM Mike Rizzo explained, was to clear another spot in the Syracuse rotation for Chico’s eventual return, as well as giving Garrett Mock, Collin Balester and Marco Estrada plenty of time to get on a regular schedule.

Here’s why that’s important: The Nationals have three pitchers in their current rotation (Ross Detwiler, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann) who figure to hit an innings limit at some point this year — Rizzo said between 140 and 170, depending on experience. Once that happens, Mock, Balester and Estrada, who are all on the 40-man roster, are likely replacements for the pitchers in September. Add Chico to that list, as well as Craig Stammen (assuming Detwiler is the one that stays in the majors once Scott Olsen returns from the DL), and you’ve got a full rotation at Syracuse.

“We were looking out for (O’Connor). We didn’t want to send him back to Double A,” Rizzo said. “We felt this was the best course of action, not only for us, but for him, too.”

O’Connor started 20 games for the Nationals in 2006, but elbow surgery deralied his 2007 season. He started one game for the Nationals last year, pitching in four others out of the bullpen, but didn’t stand much chance of making the major-league roster this year.

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