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05/07/08 7:24 PM ET
O'Connor replaces Chico in rotation
Lefty called up as former starter finds a place in bullpen
By Gene Duffey / Special to MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The Nationals are making a change in their starting rotation, naming left-hander Mike O'Connor to start Saturday night's home game against Florida in place of lefty Matt Chico. Chico will move to the bullpen. "It's not a tryout, one-game type of thing," manager Manny Acta said. "We want to relieve Matt from some of the tension he's having. And we want to give O'Connor a shot. [Chico's] having some trouble every five days, and he understands that." Chico, 24, is 0-5 with a 7.18 ERA. He pitched his best game on April 11 vs. Atlanta, going eight innings and giving up just five hits and one run, but still took the loss in a 3-0 defeat. He did not last more than five innings in any of his last four starts, losing three of them. He started Saturday against Pittsburgh and left after 4 1/3 innings, giving up eight hits and four runs and receiving no decision. Chico did not disagree with Acta's assessment. "I'm fine with it," he said. "I've been pressing a little too much. It's not mechanics. I was overthrowing, just pressing. I was trying to throw five wins in one game to get to .500. "You can look at it that way, as being demoted, but I'm not. I'm still here. I could have been sent down. It's a different role, a different idea. Just go out there and relax, feel my way with it." Acta said he envisioned Chico being used in long relief, maybe pitching the sixth and/or seventh inning. With O'Connor moving into the starting rotation, Chico will be the only left-hander in the bullpen. O'Connor is 1-0 with a 7.71 ERA in three relief appearances since being called up April 24 from Triple-A to replace veteran reliever Ray King. O'Connor, 27, went 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA in four starts for Columbus, striking out 20 in 23 innings and walking only four. "He pitched very well in Triple-A," Acta said. "I can't wait to see him. Out of the 'pen it's been a little different. He's a guy who relies a lot on his changeup. It takes time to get a rhythm for those pitches he has, that big breaking ball and that changeup." O'Connor liked the idea of being a starting pitcher again. He was a reliever his first two years in organized baseball, but mostly started for the past four years, including going 3-8 with a 4.80 ERA with the Nationals in 2006. "This is what I've done in the past," he said of joining the rotation. "Knowing when you're going to pitch makes it a little easier to prepare." O'Connor figured he is a better pitcher than he was in 2006. "My slider's gotten a little better," he said. "My changeup's gotten a little more consistent. You're continually learning. Even last year, I had a tough year [3-7, 3.07 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg following elbow surgery in November 2006], but I still improved as a pitcher."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.