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ARMAS A PIRATE

[February 2nd] -- The Tony Armas Jr. era has come to an end in Washington. The Pirates signed the former National to a one year, $3.5 million dollar contract after going 9-12, 5.03 last year for Washington. Get rocked in a pitcher's park, get a $1.4 million dollar raise. Hey, it worked for Ramon Ortiz ....

No doubt, you're as happy to see him go as I am. How many games could we watch, after all, where Armas threw 90 pitches by the 4th inning. There was talent and potential behind every pitch he threw, yet game after game, he frustrated his manager, his team and his fans. Potential doesn't always equal success.

Why didn't he make good? Was it injuries? Attitude? Bad luck? Perhaps equal amounts of all three. Perhaps we'll never know. Google search his name, and you'll find stories that cover two main themes: promise unfulfilled and never-ending injuries.

But to understand his future, we have to review his past.

It was the last spring training game of 2003. Tony Armas squinted in the Florida sunshine as he leaned in towards catcher Michael Barrett to get his sign. The Mets' Jason Phillips danced off of third base. Armas came set and snapped off a curve ball that caught Ty Wiggington looking. "Strike three -- three outs!" bellowed the umpire. His day done, Armas began to run laps in the outfield, satisfied with both his outing that day and his effort during the spring. In 19 innings, Armas had given up only 3 runs while striking out 21 batters. Finally, the potential that had caused first the Red Sox, and then the Expos to acquire him, had been transformed to success on the field. He was confident that 2003 was going to be his breakout season.

Manager Frank Robinson certainly thought so, and tabbed the then 25 year old as the team's opening day starter against the mighty Atlanta Braves, who had just won their 12th consecutive division title. Armas would face four-time Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux.

It wasn't close.

Orlando Cabrera's two out, two on, two run home run opened the flood gates as the Expos scored four runs in the first inning, allowing Tony Armas to cruise to a 10-2 victory over Atlanta. Armas pitched 6 innings, giving up only 1 run on 5 singles. During the post game interview, Frank Robinson told the press that Armas had "turned the corner," and would finally develop into the dominant pitcher the team had always envisioned he would become.

His second game, against the Mets, wasn't quite as good. He gave up 3 runs in 5 innings in a 3-1 loss to New York. His next start, against the Cubs, was as dominant as the National League had seen that season. In 7 innings, Armas gave up only 3 singles while striking out 11 in a 7-1 pasting of Chicago. Game four was a rematch against the Braves in Montreal. Armas threw another seven stellar innings, giving up only 3 hits in a no-decision loss to the Braves in 10 innings. His fifth start, against the Reds in Puerto Rico, wasn't nearly as pretty. Although he gave up only 8 hits in 6 innings, 4 of them were home runs (one to current team-mate Jose Guillen) as the Reds beat Armas and the Expos, 7-5. After 5 starts, Armas had a record of 2-1 with a solid .261 ERA. In 31 innings, struck out 23 and walked only 8 batters. He dominated in 4 of his 5 starts.

A dejected Armas boarded the team plane as it warmed it's engines on the tarmac at Marin International Airport in San Juan. He reached his seat and opened the overhead bin and, grabbing his travel bag with his pitching arm, threw it into the bin. He felt a sharp pain shoot through his shoulder. When Armas awoke the next morning in his Montreal apartment, he couldn't lift his arm. It happened again. Armas had torn both his rotor cuff and his labrum. He was done for the season.

The Expos/Nationals' franchise understood the fragile nature of Tony Armas Jr. His father, slugger Tony Armas Sr., missed more than 300 games in his career due to injury. In 1998, the Expos micro-managed their budding star to the point of forbidding him to throw certain pitches for fear of injuring his arm. He was tabbed as the Eastern League's best pitcher the previous season, and the Expos wanted him protected.

It didn't help.

Armas had sprained his elbow during the 2000 off-season, and was held back during the first part of spring training in 2001. When he was finally allowed to throw hard, he developed tendonitis in his shoulder. Because the arm trouble limited the types of pitches he could throw, batters were waiting on his fastball, and he was hammered hard all season. Armas went 9-14, 4.03 in 2001. He stayed healthy in 2002, and won 12 games for the first time in his career

Armas began spring training 2004 believing that he was 100% healthy. Frank Robinson wanted Armas to remain on the disabled list and continue to regain his strength, but Armas believed he was ready to pitch again. Frank was right. Halfway through the season, Armas developed a tired arm and was only able to start 16 games, going 2-4, 4.88. He came into the Nationals' initial spring training in 2005 fully healthy for the first time in several years. The team, and all of baseball really, believed that 2005 would be Armas' "breakout" year. That lasted until March 28th, when a pulled groin put the 27 year old on the 15-day disabled list. He rejoined the Nationals in May having missed 31 games. He started 19 games, going 7-7, 4.97. In September, he re-injured his groin and was listed as "day to day." A week later, the team placed him on the 60 day DL and he was lost for the season.

The Nationals weren't interested in re-signing Armas after the 2005 season. They believed that several teams would take a chance on the talented but oft-injured pitcher, and they just didn't have the payroll to take a chance on him. It was thought that Armas would get a contract that called for $4-6 million per year. He got nothing. Oh sure, the Rockies were interested, but playing a season in Denver wasn't going to do much to help him get any type of significant contract in 2007. He ended up re-signing with the Nationals for the 2006 season for about $2.1 million. The Nationals hoped that he would remain healthy and starts 30 games last year. Armas hoped that he would remain healthy and pitch well enough to garner a multi-year free-agent contract for 2007.

Both sides were dissapointed.

So Tony Armas Jr. is in Pittsburgh now, and he'll likely drive their fans as crazy as he drove us. And that's really too bad. He could have been very good, maybe even great. Usually, you never want your teams former players to do very well once they left -- kind of makes your GM look bad and makes you wonder "what might have been." I mean, how would you feel if Armas goes 15-6, 3.77 with the Pirates? That said, I truly want him to succeed, to have a major league career that he can be proud of. I've always liked Armas, just not the way he pitched.

Good luck, Tony.




Comments:
If Armas couldn't put up decent numbers pitching at RFK, then he probably won't have much luck in cozier PNC Park. It was reported that he signed for $3.0 million.
 
Technically, it's $3.5 million, a $3 million base plus a $500,000 buyout for 2008.
 
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