A humble Chico declined to look at himself as the guy to break the
team's dubious distinction. But the truth is, the 23-year-old is considered by many to
be the most talented left-handed starter in terms of stuff on the Nationals.
Although he only has four years of professional experience and has pitched no
more than 153 1/3 innings in a season, manager Manny Acta said recently that
Chico will be given a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.
"He has a chance. He is going to compete," Acta said. "Experience and age
has nothing to do with what we are looking for here. We are looking for guys
who are going to give us a chance to compete and set us up for the future."
Chico thought he thought his future would be with the Diamondbacks. In fact,
on Aug. 4, 2006, his agent, Jim Murray, was informed by the club that Chico
would not be traded. But to his surprise, Chico, along with right-hander
Garret Mock, was dealt to the Nationals for right-hander Livan Hernandez
three days later.
But Chico would later understand that it was Nationals assistant general
manager Mike Rizzo who recommended to general manager Jim Bowden that he should
trade for Chico. It was Rizzo, then a director of scouting for the
Diamondbacks, who was instrumental in drafting Chico in the third round of
the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. The two first met a few weeks before the
draft. They went into the back of a warehouse in California, where there was a
mound and Chico threw to Rizzo, who was impressed with what he saw from the
"I got a call from [Diamondbacks farm director] A.J. Hinch and he said, 'We
just traded you,' and then I got a call from the Nationals, and they said they
had a flight for me within 24 hours: 'Pack up your stuff and let's go,'" Chico
said. "Rizzo drafted Mock and I, and he probably knows us the best. I
understood why, and we were happy to come."
With a changeup as his out pitch, Chico pitched in four games for Double-A
Harrisburg the rest of the season and gave up eight runs in 22
innings. For 2006, Chico was 12-6 with a 2.88 ERA, and that earned him
a place on the Nationals' 40-man roster. He said his success on the mound was
due to tunnel vision.
"I didn't think about anything around me as far as what my ERA was, how many
strikes I threw or the amount of strikeouts I had," he said. "I was just going out and
Chico always has enjoyed playing baseball, though at first he wanted to be
a slugging center fielder like his idol, Ken Griffey Jr. But while
attending Fallbrook High School in San Diego, Chico, volunteered to go on the mound because the team was short on
starting pitching. It turned out to be a good a move, because he became an
All-American as a senior in 2001.
"The more I threw, the more I enjoyed it," Chico said. "It kind of fell in my lap, I
That same year, Chico was drafted by the Red Sox in the third round of the
2001 First-Year Player Draft, but he decided to attend USC for the 2002
season. The following season, he transferred to Palomar College as a
redshirt freshmen. He never pitched for Palomar, and he was drafted by the
Diamondbacks three years ago.
In three professional seasons, Chico is 38-21 with a 3.74 ERA. Those type of
numbers could help the Nationals in a big way.
"I'm going to be going out there with every intention to make the big-league
club. I'm going to try to show them what I can be on and off the field,"
Chico said. "I've learned how to pitch over the last three years."