Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NIH: The Comeback Trail 3: Luis Ayala

Did anyone else forget about Luis Ayala? Does anyone else remember the World Baseball Classic?

Ayala, I will admit, slipped my mind while planning these Comeback Trail stories, which is a shame, because he was one of our more reliable bullpen arms during the 2005 season. In the course of 68 appearances, he put up more wins than losses, kept his ERA to 2.66 (which, while not great, put him 3rd of our 5 most used relievers that season), and even recorded a hit in three plate appearances. He was, in short, a guy you could put in and not worry about too much.

Then, the World Baseball Classic happened. Many teams griped that their players might get injured in the WBC, or would lose development time. For the Nationals, these gripes seemed to come to fruition. With the exception of [b]Alfonso Soriano[/b], all the Nats representatives in the WBC had slow starts to the 2006 season. Ayala we should have been so lucky for him to be slumping. Instead, he overused a sore arm during the Classic, and ended up being taken out of a game with an elbow injury that was season ending. He'd been having some problems for awhile, and it's arguable that his elbow would probably eventually need reconstruction. Hell, some might even say that the WBC meant he had the injury sooner, meaning his surgery happened sooner, meaning his return is coming sooner. Not having had a camera in his elbow, it's hard to say if the injury was inevitable.

Whatever is to blame, the injury happened, and Tommy John surgery was the result.

Now, he's back. Or, at least, mostly back. The average recovery time for Tommy John averages around a year, with pitchers usually needing a little longer, since they require more out of their repaired elbows. In Ayala's case, we're just a little shy of a year at this point, and he's already taking throws from the mound with a hope that he will be on the 25-man roster when the team comes north (or, technically, west) for it's home opener.

How effective he'll be, that's the question. He might still have some recovery to do, and there's far from a guarantee that he'll be at RFK on April 2nd. He's still in his late 20s, and his three seasons in the majors have been decently consistant. He won't set the world on fire, but if he can stay at his career numbers, he might help eat some innings and shore up some of our relief pitching this season. The question is how long until Ayala returns fully to form. Fortunately the team is in no kind of hunt, so if he costs us some runs or even games early on, it shouldn't have too much of an effect on our season.

Monday, February 12, 2007

NIH: The Comeback Trail 2: Cristian Guzman

Remember. They're not booing. They're saying "Guuuuuz."

Cristian Guzman is in the need for a serious rebound coming into the 2007 season, as he has now had one month shy of two lost seasons with this organization. In 2006 he was sidelined for the entire season. In 2005, save for September, he was flirting with the Mendoza Line at the plate, dragging down what had been a career batting average of .265 I'm not going to pretend that those are numbers that would light the world on fire, but they would have been quite welcome as a relief from offense that was occasionally dwarfed by the pitching staff.

Still, NIH is an injury blog, so the 2005 season isn't what I'm quite as concerned about as the 2006 season. Before the season even started, it was revealed that Guzman would require shoulder surgery that would sideline him for the entire 2006 season. That was it, over and done, with Guzman's potential comeback year put on hold while he slowly recovered.

This season he's coming back, and he is entrenched enough in the shortstop position that he's pushing late season acquisition Felipe Lopez over to second base to fill the hole left by the timely trade of Jose Vidro. That was setting up to provide some interesting drama going into the spring with three big league middle infielders fighting over two spots. So we've been spared that, which is great, as I doubt this team is looking for another Spring Training position controversy after last year's drama with Alfonso Soriano. Not that that necessarily turned out for the worse.

Guzman has a certain skill set, one that was honed on the artifical terf of Minneapolis, where a chopper in the infield won't come down before a fast enough runner can get to first base. He's known the All Star game, and has even had MVP votes during that magical 2001 season where he got his average up above 300 and an OPS+ of 111 (while I don't understand OPS+, I am led to believe that triple digits are good).

So. What will 2007 bring? Which was the fluke, 2001 Guzman or 2005 Guzman? In many ways, there are more questions about Guzman than about Patterson, as Patterson has at least displayed a certain level of competence between his DL trips. Guzman...he's still going to have his 2005 season hanging heavy in the memories of many fans of this team. Can the man who has thrice led the league in Triples get his swing back in a park that love the three bagger? Obviously time will tell, and Guzman is going to be due for some close evaluation as the season progresses.

Friday, February 09, 2007

NIH: The Comeback Trail 1: John Patterson

Does it seem like I talk about John Patterson more than anyone else in these NIH posts? I'm sure it does. And I'd like to stop, I really would, but that's going to require one thing: John Patterson to have a healthy season.

Last year was an extreme. Working around a pair of extended visits to the DL, Patterson only got enough game time to put up four decisions, only one of which actually went for a win. This season he's coming in to be our staff ace after the loss of most of the other starters from the 2005 season. As of today, he is slated to be on the mound April 2nd as the Nationals start their 2007 campaign.

1-3. That's a lot to worry about. His right forearm was in pain most of last season, and he eventually underwent season ending surgery to relieve pressure on some nerves in his arm. The good news? That's supposed to make everything better. The surgery was one of those magic surgeries, like Tommy John, but better. The pain was relieved, and he got right back into recovering from it, and has declared himself 100% ready for 2007.

I hope so. Patterson is ambitious. He wants to be a starter. He wants to play. He wants to be an ace. His entire career has been an odd one, starting with taking advantage of a drafting loophole when he first entered the league until the point that he fought his way into the 2005 rotation as the #5 starter out of Spring Training.

The problem is, he's always had one label hanging over his head his entire professional career: Injury Prone. 2005 saw him pitch 31 games at the major league level, but that was flanked by seasons where injuries limited him to 19 starts in 2004 and just 8 starts and 40.2 innings in 2006.

There was even a brief, though potentially unsubstantiated rumor that he had retweaked his arm, and might not see action until a month starting in 'J'. Right now there is nothign beyond the initial reporting of the rumor to back that up, so we'll see what happens when pitchers start working out on Thursday. If there's anything to that, it'll show up soon. Hopefully not, though, and hopefully he'll make it through the season in one piece.

Lord knows our rotation is weak enough with him. I hate to think what it'll look like without him.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

NIH: Reporting Early

It's still a few days before even the pitchers and catchers report, but it's time to get the ole NIH dusted off and ready for a new season during which I hope to have less to report about. However, I look at this roster, and I see a lot of players who were banged up last season, and a lot of players who have that unfortunate label of "injury prone."

It's been an interesting off season in the Natosphere. The Washington Post has started to notice that the blogs exist. Although the NIH is well below most radars, either with the Post, the team, or the team's beat writer, I'm still looking to ratchet things up in the blogs sophomore season. No more rookie mistakes, I'm looking to deliver an improved product. And that starts with a mission statement.

The NIH will strive to be the most concentrated and in depth digestion of Nationals injury news available. Last season I started looking into what the injuries were, and I'm hoping to continue that even more this season.

The other news this off season among the Nats blog was The Interview. I think most of my readers are fellow Nats bloggers, so know what I'm talking about. My official view is that I have no official view. It was what it was, and I hope that the reaction was just a sign that we were all ancy for the season to start, and for something real to talk about and debate.

That said, I will be looking to do some profiles over the next few days of the key players who left last season on the DL and are hoping for healthier seasons this year. Since pitchers report first and since he did end up the subject I talked about the most last season, that will start with John Patterson.

I'm glad to be back for Season Two. Here's to a healthy year.