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For now, slow pitch
Question of the Day
George Allen, the late, legendary coach of the Washington Redskins, is famously known for the quote, “The future is now,” which encapsulated his philosophy of building a winner: Eschew youth, trade as many draft picks as possible and load up on wizened, savvy veterans.
Allen was a big baseball fan who came to the District the same year the Senators left, 1971. But wherever he is now, he might not appreciate or even understand the Washington Nationals’ plan for lasting success. For the Nationals as a whole and the organization’s young pitchers specifically, the future is … the future.
“The bottom line is that we’re trying to slow the process down,” said Spin Williams, who is serving his first season as the Nationals‘ minor league pitching coordinator. “We’re trying to give our pitchers the opportunity to succeed, number one, but also to get seasoning in the minor leagues and to make sure they can move to the next level. Not just from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint to make sure they understand what it takes to succeed.”
Patience is the cornerstone of the Nationals‘ philosophy of organization-building, and exhibit A is the handling of the pitching. Many young pitchers are fragile in both arm and psyche. Although exceptions occur, the concept of rushing a pitcher to the big leagues is antithetical to the common thinking in baseball. The Nationals espouse such thinking as much as, if not more than, most other clubs.
“We try to be cautious,” said assistant general manager Bob Boone who, along with Williams and director of player development Bobby Williams (no relation), has put together the master plan for bringing along young pitchers. “We’ve been very conservative.”
Hiring Spin Williams, who spent 27 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, including five as the Pirates” pitching coach, was a key part of the plan. “Spin has tremendous control of our pitching staff,” Boone said.
Allowed to lie fallow when the club resided in Montreal, the Nationals‘ farm system is improving, the recipient of more and better draft picks.
“You’ve got to have talented pitchers, and you’ve got to be able to sign them,” Williams said. “Scouting is the most important thing. You’ve got to have good scouts who understand what it takes to make a major league pitcher.”
“If there’s any excitement in Washington, D.C., it should be about the young pitchers and the lower levels,” Williams said.
Said Boone: “With our last couple of drafts, we’ve really improved the quality of players in the organization. We have some kids that we just signed that could probably be playing higher up, quite a few that are at Vermont, but we’re not gonna rush those kids. In a year, we might push them. We’re gonna give them this year to have success.”
c c c
This is not to say the Nationals‘ won’t expedite a pitcher through the organization if he’s ready. Left-hander John Lannan, a mature 22-year-old, was an 11th-round pick in 2005 out of Siena College in New York who started the season at Potomac. He quickly advanced to Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Columbus before joining the big club last week in Philadelphia.
“A big-time, aggressive push,” Boone said.
Lannan allowed four runs in his Nationals debut before getting ejected in the fifth inning after hitting two batters. But on Wednesday, he beat the Cincinnati Reds for his first big league victory to justify, at least for now, the faith of the organization.
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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