The Nationals' 2007 rotation wasn't so much a starting five as it was an act of defying gravity - at least moderately. The group compiled a mediocre 5.11 ERA, but when you consider who was starting for the team that year (Matt Chico, Mike Bascik, Jason Bergmann, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding and Jason Simontacchi all made at least 13 starts), it probably could have been much worse.
None of those six pitchers has appeared in the majors this season, and two pitchers - Simontacchi and Bascik - didn't pitch in the majors again after that year, in which a vastly undermanned Nationals team managed to win 73 games. Of those six, only Chico began the 2011 season in the organization.
After working back from Tommy John surgery last season and making a spot start in the majors last May, he didn't get much of a chance to get back to the big leagues, though. He was one of the Nationals' first cuts from big league camp this spring, after the team had taken him off the 40-man roster but refused to release him. Chico, who made 31 starts for the Nationals in 2007 and was their No. 2 starter in 2008, was irked that the Nationals wouldn't let him get a chance somewhere else.
They finally cut him loose on Wednesday, releasing him after he'd been rehabbing an injury for their Gulf Coast League team. Chico had been converted to a reliever this year, starting just two of the 27 games he'd pitched, and had made nine appearances for the Nationals' rookie team.
The best thing the left-hander had going for him was his control; the most optimistic scouting reports characterized him as a poor man's Tom Glavine, able to throw off-speed effectively and hit his spots. That was certainly enough to attract Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo to him; he drafted Chico in the third round of the 2003 draft with Arizona, and was one of the driving forces behind the 2006 trade that sent Chico and Garrett Mock to Washington in exchange for Livan Hernandez.
(Ironically, Hernandez has spent the last two years in the Nationals' rotation while the two Rizzo picks and one-time prospects frittered away two seasons in the minors at their peak ages. Mock has lost his control, skidded down the minors at 27 and is rehabbing from injuries as a reliever in the Gulf Coast League, where Chico has been.)
The two pitchers have faded away, though, as the Nationals turn their attention to a younger group of prospects, one stocked with nastier fastballs. Brad Peacock has moved to Triple-A Syracuse after cranking up his fastball in the Arizona Fall League last year, and the Nationals have high hopes for A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis and Robbie Ray in the lower half of their minor league system.
Of their prospects from the first stages of their "plan," only Jordan Zimmermann has panned out as a major league starter; Tyler Clippard has remade himself as an All-Star reliever, and Collin Balester could still work out in the bullpen, but Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary have been injury-riddled disappointments, and Colton Willems, the team's second first-rounder in 2006, has already retired. John Lannan, of course, has become a consistent major league starter, but he was more of a surprise than one of the highly-touted prospects on which the Nationals were pinning their future.
They've turned from crafty left-handers like Chico to hard throwers like Peacock, Cole and Solis. And of course, there's Stephen Strasburg, who has been throwing a "tentative" 95 mph in his rehab assignment in Viera, Fla., and could bring his preternatural stuff back to the majors this fall.
Maybe those pitchers will finally give the Nationals the dominant staff they've devoted so much time pursuing since 2005. Then again, maybe they won't - though Strasburg and Zimmermann certainly give them a fighting chance.
But they're moving on from their days of pitchers with more gumption than stuff; Craig Stammen is toiling at Syracuse, while J.D. Martin has spent some time in the Syracuse bullpen in addition to the rotation, stepping aside as the Nationals make room for younger prospects.
In and of itself, Chico's departure isn't a terribly significant move, other than where it fits in the Nationals' overall story arc: the early stages of a ballyhooed "plan" giving way to something with more teeth, and, the Nationals hope, more concrete results.