Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo doesn’t speak with the media often, but when he does it’s always a good opportunity to get a read on the franchise barometer. As the guy who makes roster decisions, he’s always evaluating and always looking ahead to the future.
Rizzo has been pleased with the Nationals' run over the last six weeks, is thrilled with the development of Tanner Roark and says he isn’t concerned with Stephen Strasburg’s forearm tightness. Because he covered so many topics, here are highlights of the conversation we had with Rizzo in transcript form:
Are you concerned with Stephen Strasburg’s forearm injury?
Rizzo: I’ve been told by the doctors not to be concerned, so I’m not gonna be concerned. Until told differently.
Who decides if he pitches again this year?
Rizzo: We make all our decisions here on the Davey level but there's input by the medical staff and by me. it's a group decision. Why don't we find out how he did today playing catch and I'll have a better feel for what's going on.
How pleased are you with the development of Tanner Roark?
Rizzo: Oh, very pleased. I think it’s a great story of scouting and player development. Our scouts identified a player that wasn’t a high-profile guy and we made a trade for him, and our player development guys polished him up and gave him the training to reach his potential. He’s a guy that we feel has pitched extremely really well for us and a guy that we’re going to continue to evaluate and monitor through this year and beyond.”
There’s always a reason why we draft a guy, we trade for a guy, that kind of thing. But because it’s such a group decision, we’ll just keep it as scouting and player development … You can see it in a lot of the smaller deals we’ve done. Everybody talks about the big deals like a Ramos and that kind of thing, but we’ve done a lot of nice deals that are on a smaller venue like Walters and Morse and those guys. The Sean Burnett guys, that type of thing. We lean heavy on our scouting staff and our player development staff, and I think you see the fruits of their labor and they do a pretty good job.
Will Roark compete for a starting spot next year?
Rizzo: Oh sure, he’s going to come to spring training and compete for a job, but we’ve got a deep stable of pitchers and a lot of guys with some power arms. It’s gonna be a fun competition for those 12 opening day pitching spots, I’m sure.
Do Roark and Taylor Jordan make you view the back of the rotation in 2014 differently?
Rizzo: I think it does, because the guys are closer now. We see what we referred to last year as the next wave, well that wave is about Major League ready in ‘14, whereas last year we had a little bit of a gap because of the Gio trade, where you lost some depth with the Tommy Millones and the Peacocks, that sort of thing, in the trade.
Does the pitching depth make it more likely you'll package for a trade, like you did for Gio Gonzalez?
Rizzo: We certainly now again have the depth to go out and acquire a player via the trade market.
Well you know we’re always looking for a way to improve ourselves, and we’ve shown that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger and make a trade. We’re going to certainly be involved in the trade market and the free agent market and the international market.”
Big picture, are you proud of the way the Nationals have rallied this season?
Rizzo: I'm proud of the guys for grinding away in a season that had some trials and tribulations. Not one time did we ever question their effort or the way they played the game or the way they approached it. They played hard in trying times and I give them a lot of credit for that. We knew we had the talent to play at this level, it's just unfortunate it took so long to do so. We felt this was the type of team we had and, when guys play with their career numbers, this is the kind of team that we've got.
What do you make of the offense’s improvement since Rick Schu was hired as hitting coach?
Rizzo: I've known Rick Schu for a long time. I hired him in Arizona, I hired him here when I got the GM job here so I've known Rick for a long time and he does a great job. He did a great job as our hitting coordinator and he's got the Nationals way of doing it and he's done a great job here and in the minor leagues.
Rick is his own guy and he brings an energy to the ballpark every day and he works hard. All these guys work hard, they put in a lot of hours and grind away.
Did he make the difference?
Rizzo: I don't know. That's debatable. Whatever your opinion is on that is what your opinion is. If I knew that answer I would, if that were the case I would've done it a long time ago.
Will Ross Detwiler return this year to Nats?
Rizzo: I don't think the calendar is going to allow him to. If he pitches Monday and has four days off after that, it doesn't leave much of the season left.
After the instructional league, will Detwiler pitch in winter ball?
Rizzo: We're going to see how many innings he needs and how much of a workload he will take. We'll see where he's at health-wise after he throws down there.
Does Denard Span’s hit streak reaffirm the potential you thought he had when you traded for him?
Rizzo: It doesn't reaffirm it for me. I knew the type of player he was and he has been through his career and I just think that, you know, I always say that they're called averages for a reason. I think these good established players are going to get their numbers. I think Denard is a case in point of a guy reaching the numbers that he always reaches.