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[August 9th] -- He stands nearly seven feet tall. He has a fastball that tops out close to 95 mph. His slider and curve are both solid major league pitches. Batters have difficulty picking the ball up out of his hand because his release point is so close to home plate. He is listed by most "scouting report" services as a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Yet Jon Rauch remains in the Nationals' bullpen.

Rauch, 27, was obtained along with Gary Majewski from the Chicago White Sox in 2004 for Carl Everett. He had been a starter throughout his minor league career, compiling a 43-25 record in 106 starts. It was assumed that Rauch had an excellent chance to capture one of the team's rotation openings last spring. He started just one game in 2005, however, going 2-4, 3.60 out of the bullpen.

This year, Rauch had little hope of starting for the Nationals. Jim Bowden brought in Brian Lawrence, Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz to help fill the holes in the rotation. Also, unlike 2005, the Nationals have a very mediocre bullpen, one that, in Frank Robinson's opinion, couldn't do without him. Now, however, with Livan Hernandez traded to Arizona, the Nationals need another starting pitcher. Billy Traber will be given the opportunity to start; so will others from the minor league system.

Jon Rauch, though, seems married to the bullpen.

The 'pen is usually filled with former starting pitchers who couldn't make it in the major leagues with just one or two "out" pitches.

Sooner or later, major league hitters figure them out and banish them to that bench beyond the outfield wall. But Rauch is different. His fastball is consistently in the low to mid 90's, and his curve and change are both solid when he's "on" his game. Rauch has the "stuff" and certainly the "size" to be a major league pitcher. Look at the comparison between Rauch and Livan in the chart above. Rauch has superior numbers in most catagories, though he's pitched less than a tenth of the innings that Hernandez has. The question is, then, will the Nationals give him the opportunity to prove himself?

Not this year, but probably in 2007.

Who do the Nationals have to fill the rotation next season besides John Patterson? Astacio, Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. are likely not coming back. Mike O'Connor brings more questions than he does answers, and Shawn Hill is still hurting. It will be much easier for the Nationals to replace Jon Rauch out of the bullpen than it will to find another starting pitcher with his promise. My guess is that Rauch will leave behind the bullpen next season and join Patterson in the starting rotation.

Or, that's what should happen, anyway.

NATS NOTES: Ryan Zimmerman seems to have fallen into a small slump -- he consistently swung at pitches low and away, his "Achilles Heel" when he's not seeing the ball well. When he's doing that, he's going to do little more than strike out or pop up into shallow right-center .... Now that Alex Escobar is near 100%, will he take back center-field from Ryan Church? It's no secret that Jim Bowden thinks highly of Escobar and isn't particularly fond of Church. For Church to keep his job, he's going to have to keep hitting home runs on a regular basis .... What's with Nick Johnson these days? Although he's starting to hit the ball well again, he continues to slump in the field, commiting his 9th error of the season. I thought that defense never slumps? .... Matt LeCroy, who joined the New Orleans Zephyrs after he couldn't "hook-up" with another major league team, went hitless in his first game with the Zephyrs .... Matt Chico will make his first organizational start on Wednesday with the Harrisburg Senators .... Harrisburg's Frank Diaz was named the "best defensive outfielder" in the Eastern League by a vote of that league's managers .... Jason Bergman has dominated at New Orleans since being moved into the starting rotation since his last demotion.

I hope the probable pitchers page on the Nationals.com is wrong and Rauch starts on Friday instead of career reliever Bergmann (who has started, and is apparently currently starting in the minors).
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