New Faces That We Could Be Seeing

Jim Bowden seems to like to try motivating his players with his words. In his latest threat laden tirade, he suggests that more changes could be coming if the Nationals don't turn things around. So, if changes do happen, who may be some of the new faces that we could see at RFK?

"For us to turn this season around and become competitive again, our proven pitchers must step up and be accounted for. If not, major changes will begin to happen, sooner rather than later," threatened Jim Bowden. It's not the first time that he's threatened such moves; last time, Brandon Watson and Wiki Gonzalez were the ones being sent to New Orleans.

Since Bowden pointed out pitching, let's take a look at some of the pitchers who could find their way to Washington.

First on the list is AA starter Shawn Hill. With the exception of one horrible outing against New Britain, Hill has pitched well at Harrisburg this season, going 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA with the Senators. If you take away the New Britain game (5 ER in 2/3 of an inning), Hill would have a 1.65 ERA. He isn't a huge strikeout pitcher - 29 Ks in 44.1 IP - but he is a control pitcher, having walked just four hitters all season. He also has surrendered just one homerun this season and that was in his first start of the season and he's gone 42 innings without allowing a homerun. Hill missed all of last season with an injury, but he had already pitched 108 innings at AA, so why he's still at Harrisburg is a mystery. The Nats should at least move him to New Orleans to give him tougher competition.

Bill Bray is another guy who is likely to see the majors before long. Is there any question that he could do at least what Joey Eischen is doing out of the Nats bullpen? Bray is a 22 year old left-handed reliever (he turns 23 on June 5th) who has really come into his own this season. He pitched at three different levels in 2005, with minimal success. This season though, opponents are hitting just .183 against him and he's actually been tougher on right-handers than he has on lefties, so he could be more than a lefty specialist out of the pen for the Nationals. The Nats had flirted with bringing him up before and this time, there would be no reason not to move him up the ladder to see what he could do out of the bullpen. After all, it's not like Eischen is tearing things up.

Santiago Ramirez is a 27 year old right-hander who had good numbers coming into the season, but had been hit around at AAA Omaha (KC Royals) last season and signed with the Nationals as a minor league free agent. Obviously, the Royals missed on this guy, because he's been solid at New Orleans, going 2-1, 1.07 with 5 saves for the Zephyrs. Ramirez has 27 strikeouts in 25.1 innings of work and seems ready for the next step.

Then, there's the unhittable Saul Rivera. Opponents are hitting just .220 against him this season, which is actually higher than you might think, considering that his ERA is 0.99 on the season. This is a guy who has truly bounced around. He was drafted by the Twins back in 1998, was claimed on waivers by the Mets in 2001, traded to the Expos in 2002, traded by the Expos in 2004, only to become a minor league free agent at the end of the season and re-sign with the Expos just prior to them becoming the Nationals. Rivera has actually made two starts this season to go with nine relief appearances.

And if the Nats want a little more experience, there's Travis Hughes. Hughes turns 28 next week and has pitched in the majors with Texas and with the Nationals last season. Neither audition went particularly well, but he's pitching well at AAA New Orleans and could get another look with the big league team if they decide to go with a more seasoned reliever.

Of course, Kevin Gryboski, Billy Traber and Jason Bergmann are all sitting at AAA as well, with varying degrees of success under their belts. There are others at New Orleans who could get a look, but the folks mentioned here are the most likely reinforcements to be hailed from the Big Easy anytime soon.

One more longshot to mention is Harrisburg's Danny Rueckel. A 26 year old right-handed reliever, Rueckel has pitched well in the minors and is a decent prospect, but odds are that he'll log time at AAA before getting a major league audition. His turn may have to wait until September.

Of all the players mentioned, only Bergmann, Rivera and Traber are on the 40 man roster, meaning that to bring any of the others to the majors would require clearing a spot for them. Of course, with the likes of Joey Eischen and Ramon Ortiz, that shouldn't be too tough to do.


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