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News From Nats Town: Strasburg Solid, And Rizzo Says Money Will Not Determine Who Plays

In his second spring outing Stephen Strasburg pitched three innings of shutout baseball, striking out two while allowing two hits and walking one batter against the Cardinals this afternoon. Though the Cardinals played without stars Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday, Strasburg’s performance was still impressive, throwing 28 of his 49 pitches for strikes and starting seven of the eleven batters he faced with first-pitch strikes. Unfortunately, the Nationals were unable to parlay Strasburg’s strong start into a win. Tyler Clippard took the loss, surrendering five runs in one and one-third innings, and the Nationals fell to 0-10 on the spring. (For some video of Strasburg’s outing, click here).

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In reference to Nationals shortstop prospect Ian Desmond, General Manager Mike Rizzo was quoted today as saying “Money does not enter the equation…Money has nothing to do with who is going to play and who is not going to play.”

After today’s game, Desmond is hitting .455 (10-for-22) and in position to uproot Nationals’ mainstay Cristian Guzman, despite Guzman being owed $8 million in this, the final year of his contract. Jim Riggleman’s use of Desmond in the outfield  this spring has fueled speculation that he could be retained on the major league roster as a utility man, Rizzo has stated that the 24 year-old Desmond is “going to be an everyday shortstop in the big leagues,” and that, to further his development at the position, “[h]e’s going to play every day at shortstop somewhere this season [either in Washington or Syracuse].”

Analysis: I like Rizzo’s plan for Desmond. While it remains unclear whether or not he will begin the season in the majors, his performance certainly suggests that the Nationals have their shortstop of the future and they would do well to concentrate on his skills at that position (where he made 11 errors in 232 chances last season). Between Josh Willingham, Willie Harris, Elijah Dukes, Nyjer Morgan, and possibly even Roger Bernadina, the Nationals face a logjam in the outfield, whereas the nearly 32 year-old Guzman remains Desmond’s only obstacle at shortstop. Furthermore, in addition to his strong showing this spring, Desmond batted .330 with a .401 OBP last season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. Although the Nationals may begin the year with Desmond in Syracuse, the combination of Guzman’s large contract, declining range, prolific bat, and the team’s relative position in the National League standings could make Guzman an attractive trading chip for a division contender and lead to Desmond’s big-league return sooner rather than later.

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