The Facts
Head Trainer: Lee Kurtz
Player Days Lost: 1,551
Total Dollars Lost: $12.1 million
Three-Year Rank: 30

Although we’re at the back of the pack, there’s hope here. Both by design and by effect, the Nationals were working with less than other teams, something that’s slowly coming around on the front end, and will see a huge change as they move into their new stadium. With their new digs come new facilities, something that’s shown a small but noticeable effect for other teams getting a new stadium. In almost all of the new facilities built over the last two decades, we’ve seen clubs also move into gigantic new training rooms with the best equipment, more space, and more modalities at hand. Pools, rehab facilities, and even X-ray machines are available in some stadiums. While teams in older stadiums have access to all of this, they’re sometimes cramped, and sometimes have to outsource some of these functions.

Nationals Park will put Lee Kurtz and his staff back in control, something they never really seemed to have last season. The team was cobbled together on the cheap, and was both young and fragile. However, most of the days lost could be traced back to a few notable losses. Both Nick Johnson and Alex Escobar were lost due to injuries that occurred in a previous season, while the early part of May saw the Nats lose John Patterson, Ryan Wagner, and Chris Snelling. Virtually the entire initial rotation found their way to the DL, but in our look at the staff before the season, this was pretty much expected. (Shawn Hill was a green? What the heck was the system thinking with that one?)

I’m not here to make excuses for anyone; you get what you get based on results. A medical staff can only do so much, given what it’s working with, and to have even been around average with last year’s collection of talent would have been a miracle. Coming in 30th isn’t where I expect this team to be this season.

The Big Question
The bloggers over at Federal Baseball ask: “Can John Patterson finally become the staff ace he looked to be in 2005, or will injuries continue to derail his career?”

Well, although Patterson’s no longer a Nat in the interim since the question was originally asked, let’s nevertheless answer it, because Patterson’s career is still a going concern. It’s always tough to change perceptions; players tagged as “injury prone” (or worse yet, “soft”) have a hard time bucking that tag no matter what they do. Patterson figured out how, by giving his new fans something to dream on in his first big season with the Nats. Unfortunately, Patterson has always been plagued by injuries, except for that one season. You’d think that people would notice this, but first impressions have a way of sticking. Patterson is a very talented pitcher, probably showing his true talent level in the ’05 season, but absent that kind of health, the season will look like a fluke. Patterson has also shown that he can be healthy, but he’s shown even more clearly that you can’t count on his being healthy.

C Paul Lo Duca Red light: Lo Duca’s light is the same color as his ass; it’s nice when things work out that way. The knee problem is minor, but if Johnny Estrada (also Red light) can play his way into making this a platoon, both of them will be the better for it.

1B Nick Johnson Red light: Dmitri Young (also Red light) factors in here, assuming he doesn’t eat his way out of a job. Johnson’s health record is terrible, but if he follows the pattern of players like Jermaine Dye and Jason Kubel, two recent, similarly devastating leg injuries, the second year out from the injury could be ‘normal.’

2B Ronnie Belliard Yellow light: On the bright side, he looks skinny next to Da Meathook. On the downside, he’s still got no range, and has a tendency to get banged up and worn down.

SS Cristian Guzman Red light: Guzman’s shoulder is as much an issue as Felipe Lopez‘s attitude. Some sort of platoon would help, but the idea that Guzman is the best option is just silly; his injury last year was one of those that can be charitably called ‘addition by subtraction.’

3B Ryan Zimmerman Green light

LF Wily Mo Pena Yellow light: Pena gets hurt a lot, seemingly with always minor hurts, but always just enough to leave people wondering what he would do if he could just stay healthy and hold the job down. He should have no such problems with job security, but he’s already got a serious injury. A torn oblique is one that could linger throughout the first half, longer if he re-injures it. Elijah Dukes doesn’t have a rating, but stands to pick up the at-bats as long as he can stay on the field.

CF Lastings Milledge Green light

RF Austin Kearns Yellow light: Kearns has been healthy for the last couple seasons, leaving only the memories of his much more injury-prone youth. He’ll see a bit of a home park power boost, and we can hope that he can continue to stay healthy enough to make use of it.

SP John Patterson Red light: See today’s Big Question.

SP Shawn Hill Red light: Hill was shut down this spring with more shoulder problems, so the red looks solid. What isn’t so solid is the condition of his shoulder; Hill doesn’t seem to be able to handle a normal starter’s workload. This could open the door for Joel Hanrahan (who’s Yellow light, on workload.)

SP Jason Bergmann Red light: Bergmann is like most Nats pitchers-really good when healthy, but seldom healthy. If there was a way to get ten of these guys and know which five of them would be rotation-ready at any given point, that would work. Instead, they’re left scrambling and patching as the injuries stack up. He’s also the reverse of Kearns, a pitcher left mourning the loss of RFK.

SP Matt Chico Yellow light: Let’s see… a young lefty with control problems, inconsistent mechanics, and facing a second season, with big innings increases? It’s only his solid injury history that keeps him from going red.

SP John Lannan Yellow light: The innings increase is really the only negative here, but that’s enough.

RP Jon Rauch Yellow light: I was actually at the game where Rauch’s labrum gave out. I like to think I’m not bad karma, but who knows? Rauch’s not only come back from that injury, he’s actually bettered himself. I think most of the improvement is the result of his rehab, which helped him “find himself,” something that often comes late to tall pitchers.

CL Chad Cordero Green light

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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