Matt Chico is as emotionless as they come on the pitcher's mound and in the clubhouse. The Washington Nationals rookie left-hander is so stolid that teammate Ryan Zimmerman calls him "more boring than me."
Don't confuse Chico's lack of facial expression and colorful quotes for a lack of intestinal fortitude, though. The 23-year-old hurler, who hadn't pitched above Class AA before this season, is showing he has the guts to pitch in the big leagues. And more often than not pitch successfully.
Chico's rock-solid rookie year reached its pinnacle yesterday when he shut out the Chicago Cubs over seven innings, leading the Nationals to a 6-0 victory at RFK Stadium. It was only the latest in a string of stellar starts for him — over his last three outings, he has posted a 0.47 ERA.
And all this came after he was mauled by the Detroit Tigers for eight runs June 18.
"Nothing fazes him," manager Manny Acta said. "He's been consistent the whole year when it comes to his mental approach to the game. We haven't had any kind of big-time pep talk with him, because he has proven to us that if he has a rough outing, he comes back and has a good one."
Chico was in complete control yesterday, scattering four hits over his seven innings and not walking a batter for the third time this season. He said his ability to shake off bad outings like the Detroit one has been a character trait since high school, when his pitching coach suggested it.
"He was the one guy who said: 'Just look ahead, don't look at the past,' " Chico said. "And that's what I've done ever since."
Chico's season numbers (4-5 with a 4.39 ERA) are hardly awe-inspiring. But take away the four rough starts he has had to date, and his ERA falls to 2.59. He has also been the victim of poor run support, which has resulted in nine no-decisions.
"I'll tell you what, if he stays in the second half the same way he was in the first half, I'll be very happy," Acta said. "I'm very satisfied for a kid like him, what he's done so far. Even if it doesn't happen, I think we have accomplished something with this kid this year, developing him at the big league level."
Ryan Zimmerman's first-inning home run yesterday extended the third baseman's remarkable record on holidays.
Zimmerman has now hit game-ending or go-ahead homers on five different holidays over the last two seasons: Father's Day and Independence Day last year and Mother's Day, Father's Day and Independence Day this year. (For the record, the Mother's Day homer actually came in a game that began Saturday night but ended at 1:42 a.m. Sunday on his grand slam.)
"I really don't know how to explain it," Zimmerman said. "I wish every day was a holiday."
Ryan Church was not in the starting lineup yesterday following a 16-game stretch in which he has hit .190. Robert Fick started in Church's place in left field. ...
Acta said right-hander Tim Redding, who pitched effectively Tuesday night in his first major league start in two years, likely will start again Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Jason Bergmann will start the Nationals' first game out of the All-Star break July 13 at Florida. ...
Outfielder Alex Escobar, out all season with a dislocated shoulder and sprained ankle, will resume a rehab assignment with Class AA Harrisburg today. Acta said if all goes well, Escobar is likely to come off the disabled list following the All-Star break and work his way into the Nationals' lineup.