Riggleman, McCatty agree: “strongest” rotation since their arrival

Nationals pitchers and catchers report Tuesday in Viera, Fla., with the most talented group since the team moved to Washington. That might not be saying much considering the struggles the team has had, but you still have to be impressed with the work general manager Mike Rizzo has done to assemble two dozen pitchers that will compete for a chance at the 25-man for opening day.

The sheer number of pitchers available to pitching coach Steve McCatty made him downright giddy earlier this month as he planned out how to divide up the pitchers into separate groups so the major league staff could get a better look at them in spring training.

“I was just dividing up the guys into group A and group B,” McCatty recalled. “So I went back and forth and started thinking about this and said, ‘Well, I will just wait because we are adding guys and you don’t want to have to do all this work again.’ “

It turns out he would have to.

“So last week, I am downstairs in the basement with my books on the ping pong table and I had the MLB Network on,” McCatty said. “I got it all the pitchers written down, divided everybody up perfectly, put the last guy down on paper and I hear, ‘And the Washington Nationals sign Cla Meredith today.’ “

McCatty said having so many choices is a credit to the hard work that Rizzo and his staff have put in to trying to find the best players available.

“I think Mike has done a great job,” McCatty said. “I really do. Everybody that we have added are quality guys and good players. I am excited. This is strongest roster since I have been a part of the organization.”

Manager Jim Riggleman agrees.

“I think it is the most talented staff we have had,” Riggleman said. “It would look a little different if Stephen Strasburg was on board at the beginning of spring training, but that is not the case.

Some of the starters available include guys like Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, Chad Gaudin, Chien-Ming Wang and others.

“I think there is a lot of talent there,” Riggleman said. “Some of that talent is because of injury or just guys off their game a little bit last year. The starting rotation did not pitch to the level that they thought they would pitch and that we thought they would pitch.”

Riggleman hopes the loss of games pitched for the starters will go ease this season and feels depth can play a part in offsetting injuries.

“Certainly, injuries affected Jason Marquis and John Lannan,” Riggleman said. “Jordan Zimmermann was coming back from injury. I think we certainly have higher hopes for those three guys this year.”

Riggleman also believes there are other pitchers with starting experience that could make their way into contention for rotation spots with a strong spring.

“You got to mention Detwiler’s name in there too,” Riggleman said. “Gaudin was told he will be given a chance to compete for a starting job. So, we think there is a lot of talent there. It is not a staff full of No. 1- or No. 2-type starters, but we feel like they are all talented, capable, middle-of-the-rotation guys. You hate to keep using that word ‘if’ for injuries.

“Hopefully, we won’t be as devastated with injuries the way we were last year in the rotation, meaning Lannan, Marquis, Strasburg and Zimmermann. Zimmermann only got a few starts at the end of the year. We hope that luck is on our side a little bit more this year so the talent those guys have (can be showcased).”

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