- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

Right-hander Jon Rauch was one of baseball’s leaders in appearances and innings last year in what turned out to be a breakout season.

Rauch, at 6-foot-11 the tallest player in the game, tied a major league record last April by striking out four batters in one inning. He finished with a 4-5 record and a 3.35 ERA in 85 games.

Ken Wright talked with Rauch last week.

Q: Last year, you were one of the National League’s leaders in appearances and innings. Do you think last year was your breakthrough season?

A: I think it was definitely a breakthrough season to be in a role that I hadn’t really been in. I started off the year as kind of the middle relief guy. Then, through some trades and some opportunities, I got a chance to setup for [Chad] Cordero towards the end of the year.

It was just nice to be healthy for a full season, then nice to have somebody have confidence in me to give me the ball every day. Frank [Robinson] gave me those opportunities.

Q: With Luis Ayala coming back, do you see yourself still as the setup man or placed in another role?

A: I honestly don’t know. Hopefully, they give me the ball regardless of what the role is, I’m going to go out there and compete and try to do well and help win ball games.

Q: By your performance last year, do you think any thoughts of you returning to the starting rotation have been dropped for now?

A: I think I’m more comfortable in that role [relief] now, just for the simple act that I’ve got a full season under my belt without being hurt. As a starter, my track record was that I couldn’t make it a full season as a starter because I always had arm problems from 2001 and up. For me to know that I can go out there and be a part of it every day and know that my body is in shape to do that kind of role, I think that’s the biggest boost for me.

Q: You’re 6-foot-11, the tallest man in major league history. Why aren’t you playing in the NBA? You have NBA size.

A: I never enjoyed it. I played a little bit in high school and dabbled in it. It wasn’t where my heart was. … My heart was in baseball. It was reward for me if I did well in school that I was allowed to play. It was more enjoyable for me to come up and play it that way. And, it’s turned out all right so far.

Q: When you were with the White Sox, the club shared a facility in the Cactus League with the Arizona Diamondbacks when they had 6-10 Randy Johnson. What was it like meeting him?

A. We never crossed paths. Most of those years, I didn’t stay in big league camp long enough; 2002 was probably the longest one when I made the team out of camp. Other than that, I never really stayed in big-league camp long enough to be over there for a significant amount of time and cross paths with him.

Obviously, he got traded out, and that was that. I came across him once or twice. I came across him last year when New York came to RFK. He’s a nice guy. He took the time out to meet my family, and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him.

Q: At the plate, you’re one of two pitchers to have homered off future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens. Can you take me back to that moment? What did you hit and where did you put it?

A: Swing hard in case you hit it. I think it was a first-pitch fastball. I just thought I saw it, swung, and didn’t see where it went, and the catcher was screaming at me to run. I looked and everybody had their hands up and everybody was jumping up and down and I socked it down the right-field line. It was blind luck.

Q: Was that your only career home run?

A: Oh, yeah. That was my first big-league hit and one of only two, I think.

Q: When you picked up your first career save last year, how did that feel?

A: It was a big moment. [Chad] Cordero does an outstanding job doing that role here, and he’s going to continue to do that role and succeed at it. The guy led the majors in saves two years ago. Last year was a tough year for him, being with the World Baseball Classic and not really getting a chance to get where he needed to be at the start of the season.

It kind of started off slow, but if you look at the second half after the All-Star break, the guy was unhittable, lights out in almost any category you look at. He’s going to be doing it for a long time, but it’s nice to go out there and support him and give him those days off that he’s going to need. But, it’s whatever they want me to do, I’m going to try and go out there and do it the best I can.

Q: What do you think of the Nationals bullpen? Do you think you have one of the top bullpens in baseball?

A: It’s tough to say that in any situation because you can have all the best stuff on paper, but things during the season can lead otherwise. You look at the quality of guys that we have down there - Cordero, Ray King, [Luis] Ayala has unbelievable stuff when he’s on. [Ryan] Wagner is working with [Randy] St. Claire, and it’s helped him out a ton from what I understand. …

Q: How has your camp gone so far? How do you feel? What do you need to work on?

A: The same thing as any other pitcher does, and that’s just being more consistent with their pitches and being able to locate all your pitches at any time. So far, so good. … I’ll try to answer that one again in August or September.

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