The good start pleases Nationals president Stan Kasten, who had a hand in the team's turnaround. He was the one who hired general manager Mike Rizzo and insisted that the team spend its money on player development and scouting.
It looks as if those decisions are paying off now. Rizzo has made great offseason moves, signing free agents Matt Capps and Ivan Rodriguez, for example. The team has a plethora of pitching in the farm system, and is expected promote right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen sometime this season.
MLB.com caught up with Kasten recently to talk about the Nationals and their plans.
MLB.com: What are your feelings right now about the good start?
Kasten: I'm encouraged, of course. We knew the first quarter of our season was going to be a very difficult test for us. With so many players injured or recovering through rehab -- we are still developing in the Minors -- we knew we wouldn't be the best team we could be until the second half of this year. As I said, it's very encouraging.
We knew when we came here, we were going to build it with pitching. We were going to focus on scouting and player development with an emphasis on young pitching. If you do it that way, it just takes time. You can't draft players and have them ready for the Major Leagues quickly with perhaps one notable exception [Strasburg], but that just doesn't happen.
Unlike other sports that don't have Minor Leagues, you have to go through a process and that process takes two years, three years, four years, five years. It's uncomfortable and unpleasant while you are waiting out the development. But it's the right way to do it. I'm hopeful and very optimistic about our future, which I still regard as extremely bright.
MLB.com: To what do you attribute the Nationals' 17-14 record thus far?
Kasten: Last year was the year of real change and real transition in the front office and on the field. Those changes were very important. And we saw in the second half of last year tangible results of those positive changes. We went into the offseason with the most aggressive wish list ever. We received full support from ownership to make some of the changes that we wanted to make. We maybe didn't get the first choice in any of the things that we wanted, but we really received good choices along the way. We worked hard on improving our defense. We worked hard on improving our rotation. We worked hard on improving our bullpen. Those things have really helped us early in the year.
Baseball is a sum of all of those things coming together. We are outperforming what our raw statistics say -- ERA, batting average. It's the most encouraging sign we could possibly see as we contemplate the remainder of this year.
MLB.com: What do the Nationals need to do to get even better this season?
Kasten: We need starting pitching. I would say that about every team. When you have a good, stable, productive, reliable, consistent starting rotation, anything is possible. Without that, nothing is possible. We are very, very close now. I'm no longer talking months and years. I'm now talking days and weeks. As I said, once you have that in place, anything is possible. In addition to the excellent performances we have seen already out of our rotation, we still foresee [pitchers coming during] the rest of the season -- be it a Strasburg or rehabbing players like Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang. It's further supplemented by this pipeline that we worked so hard to build -- having the Luis Atilanos when you need them, having the Matt Chicos when you need them, having the J.D. Martins when you need them, having the Garrett Mocks when you need them. It goes on and on. That's important. It took time, but we finally have it.
I like to say, as I discussed this with baseball people, you need three good stable horses in the rotation in the postseason, but for the 162-game season, I need 10 pitchers. And I think we are finally becoming a team that really has that pipeline filled. I wish it could have been done with a flip of a switch. I wish it could have been done overnight, but those things take a little time. Thank goodness, we are past that period and can now look forward to a bright future.
MLB.com: A few minutes ago, you were talking days and weeks when this pitching pipeline could come. Everyone is talking about Strasburg and Storen. Will they be here in weeks or days?
Kasten: I don't know. That is the GM's decision. You mention those two names. Clearly, they have a Major League future. I can't put a time on it because baseball is just too unpredictable. That's why five pitchers in a rotation are never enough for you, because things happen. I wish I could give you a day. I just can't, although it's soon. It's getting here fast, and it's very exciting.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.