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The importance of pitching depth

Mar 11, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

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If the Nationals hold any edge over the Braves entering the season, it’s most likely the dominant starting rotation they intend to send to the mound every night for 162 games. Not much distinguishes these talented ballclubs from each other, but the Nats clearly entered the spring with a more fearsome starting five than Atlanta did.

And the difference between the two rivals may be growing wider as we speak.

It’s been a rough couple of days for the Braves, who on back-to-back days saw Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy prematurely depart Grapefruit League outings due to arm injuries.

Medlen, who already has had Tommy John surgery in his career, clutched his right elbow after delivering a pitch in Port St. Lucie on Sunday. Team doctors initially referred to his injury as “forearm tightness,” but the entire organization and its fan base are still holding their collective breaths awaiting word of yesterday’s MRI on the pitcher.

Making matters even worse, Beachy was pulled early from his start yesterday in Clearwater, with his velocity down and his right arm barking. This is another pitcher trying to make a complete return from Tommy John surgery, and while Beachy insisted he’s not terribly concerned about this development, it’s impossible not to at least consider the worst-case scenario for him.

Throw in Mike Minor’s slow return this spring and just like that, a Braves club that won 96 games last season and fully expects to defend its division title finds itself facing the very real possibility of opening 2014 with a rotation of Julio Teheran, Freddy Garcia, Alex Wood, David Hale and … uh … somebody else with a useable right or left arm.

The Nationals, of course, are dealing with their own pitching injury at the moment, with Doug Fister at least temporarily sidelined due to elbow inflammation. The right-hander is expected to play catch today for the first time in a week, and if all goes well, he could be back pitching in a game by week’s end.

But even if Fister’s injury proves more serious than initially believed, the Nationals appear much better-suited to deal with this than their NL East rivals.

They already had three capable pitchers competing for the fifth spot in the rotation: Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. They also have veteran Ross Ohlendorf, who pitched well at times last season in emergency duty (though he’s currently dealing with a minor back injury).

Would a long-term Fister DL stint be damaging to the Nationals? Sure, but they would still feel fairly confident proceeding with a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Detwiler and either Roark or Jordan.

Compare that to the potential disaster the Braves now face, and it’s easy to understand why other teams would love to have the Nationals’ rotation. It’s a rotation that boasts both dominant arms at the top and quality depth at the bottom.

Tough to ask for more than that.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Mar 11, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    Fister on a long DL is not a good scenario at all. I really hope that does not happen.

  2. ehay2k - Mar 11, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    I have to believe Medlen is hurt badly. It seems to me that by now, the extent of Medlen’s injury is well known to the Barves. One reason not to disclose it, if it is serious, would be to prevent anyone from jacking up the price of a replacement. If it was not serious, they would be talking about it, IMO.

    • therealjohnc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:21 AM

      Well, they’re getting a second opinion. Although the MRI seemed to show “involvement of the ligament” apparently it is difficult to read the MRI of someone who (like Medlen, as well as Strasburg, Zimmermann, Garcia, Giolito and many others) has already had TJ surgery.

      Personally I’d rather have Medlen and Beachy at full strength – I’d like to see the Nationals take the NL East (and more) with the best possible competition and no excuses available.

  3. ArVAFan - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    Well, Fister is supposed to throw on flat ground today. If that goes well, then it really was just “mild inflammation” or “typical inflammation” and he’ll be back on track for the home opener. If not, well, we have pitching depth. You can never have too much pitching.

    If the Braves are thinking that by staying silent about Medlen they will avoid “jacking up the price of a replacement”, I think it’s too late for that. It’s not as if everyone hasn’t seen the video.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      The Braves fans on Twitter have been refreshing all day for news yesterday on Medlen and Beachy. One person called it flat brim curse. The waiting game is tough.

    • tcostant - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:52 AM

      Remember how long the Nats waited until the team disclosed that Stras needed TJ surgery. I think they get a few doctors to take a look. Isn’t Ervin Santana still out there, the Braves might have to make a bid there….

  4. Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    (Reposting from last night…)

    ************************************
    Cunegonde and I are back from Melbourne/Viera and after searching for our car for an hour at IAD and tipping a tow truck driver a couple of bucks to help me find it, we’re home.

    I have about 65 pictures up at https://www.facebook.com/bernie.gilbert.7/media_set?set=a.835400619818961.1073741849.100000470932702&type=3

    Should be accessible to anyone and everyone; you don’t have to be my Facebook friend to look at them, though I won’t refuse friends request from any NIers (warning – my strong political opinions often show up there…)
    ************************************

    Don’t want to gloat over the Barves’ apparent misfortune, since I’m a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool believer in the Evil Eye, who spends his life just trembling with desire for the chance to punish you for rejoicing in your own good fortune or your enemy’s ill. But it’s not like we haven’t had our own share of pitchers going down with serious injuries, going all the way back to John Patterson and Chad Cordero.

    So suck it, Barves.

    • ArVAFan - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:19 AM

      Candide: as you have the photos posted, they are not accessible to non-Facebook users. I recall from last year that another Insider had the same problem. Someone who is on Facebook can tell you what to click to make your album visible to all.

    • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      ArVAFan – thanks for the heads-up. Had to do a little bit of research – evidently making an album public ony makes it public for all FB users, but not to non-FB users. You have to “get a link” and supply it to non-FB users for them to see it.

      So here’s the link – let me know if it works: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.835400619818961.1073741849.100000470932702&type=1&l=54e43518b2

      • ArVAFan - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:30 AM

        That worked! Looks like you had a good time–with a without baseball. And thanks for packing up a couple days of nice weather for us, too!

      • natsfan1a - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:48 AM

        Worked for me, too. Thanks for sharing!

      • knoxvillenat - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        Candide,

        Nice pictures and a lovely lady you have there! I believe I recognize that several photos were taken from the deck at Bonefish Willy’s, is that correct?

        Thanks for posting.

      • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 12:04 PM

        knoxvillenat, that is indeed Bonefish Willy’s. Mark recommended it in his “What to Do Around Viera” column he wrote a month or so ago. It’s definitely a little off the beaten path, looks like nothing from the outside, but a very nice place to eat, especially if you want to get away from the chain and tourist places.

        Mark had recommended the grouper bruschetta but we couldn’t find it on the menu. Cunegonde told me what wine she wanted and left for the ladies’ room. The waitress came by while she was gone and I asked about the grouper, and she instantly lit up and told me that was at the top of the list of their specials.

        So Cunegonde ordered it and loved it.

        I wasn’t all that hungry, so I had a half dozen oysters and a Caesar salad.

        Got kinda chilly out there on the deck – it was Saturday afternoon, before Daylight Savings Time jicked in, so the sun was getting low and the breeze was making it a lot less comfortable than the 75 degrees we were enjoying at the park. But still highly recommended. If you plan to eat there, get there early for the good outdoor seating.

        I told the folks at Bonefish Willy and also at Pineda Crossing – a steak, chops, and seafood place we ate at Sunday night, again on Mark’s recommendation – that they all owed him a drink. They didn’t know who he was, so I flashed a picture of him from Nats Insider. :-)

      • natsfan1a - Mar 11, 2014 at 12:27 PM

        Pineda Crossing sounded familiar, so I went back and looked at my notes from our ST trip some years ago…

        “I had mushroom-filled ravioli in a port wine sauce, and the hubster had grouper prepared with shrimp and crabmeat (one of the catches of the day). All of it was delicious, and the service was good, although they were quite busy. Oh, and I finally got my Key Lime Pie. mmm….in Viera, even better…”

        drool…

      • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 12:53 PM

        Cunegonde had the Key lime pie at Pineda Crossing also. She’s quite the Key lime pie critic, and passed judgment: “This is how Key lime pie is SUPPOSED to be made…”

    • Doc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:23 AM

      Merci beaucoup, Candide!

      Who’s the new coach in the yellow jacket???

      Great bunch of photos!

      • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 12:05 PM

        Doc, the yellow jacket coach is Cunegonde. She wore her Rice University Owls cap on Sunday, but we never saw Anthony Rendon that day… :-(

    • natsfan1a - Mar 11, 2014 at 1:03 PM

      As somewhat of a Key lime aficionado myself, I agree with Cunegonde.

  5. sjm308 - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    I read an interesting answer from Boswell on injury and it made a lot of sense – I am not computer savy and don’t know if Mark appreciates cutting & pasting someone else’s words on here but what he basically said was that each 5 days the pitcher basically goes out and hurts himself, its basically a self-inflicted action. Through a season, he will settle into a routine and heal enough to throw 5 days later. Its now, during the early part of the year, where they have not settled into a routine and have been off for several months, that is the most dangerous and we are seeing that all over the league. I wish I could post links or whatever but its in his weekly Q & A and it might be the first question about Fister.

    Bottom line is, we have enough depth to let Fister take his time, get his mechanics and elbow fixed and with days off during the early part of the year it hopefully will not be a big deal.

    Go Nats!!

    • ArVAFan - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:32 AM

      Hmm. So folks like Gio and Mike Gonzales who have been throwing before they come into camp have an advantage over the ones who don’t (assuming they don’t actually hurt themselves in the off season).

      • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:42 AM

        And folks like Soriano who hardly throw a pitch at all from October 1 to April 1…

    • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:34 AM

      Agreed. Even if it was bone chips, get it fixed now and be ready on July 1.

    • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:09 AM

      SJM – to copy a link is pretty easy, actually – give it a shot. Here’s how:

      1) Go up to the URL (that’s at the top where you see the address of the page you’re at).

      2) Highlight the whole link; it should turn blue. Don’t hit enter or anything else – just let the whole link sit there smiling a happy blue smile at you.

      3) Hold the CTRL key down on your keyboard (bottom left corner), and WHILE HOLDING THE CTRL KEY DOWN, hit the C key once. Then release both keys.

      4) What you just did was to copy that entire URL into the memory of your computer, where your computer is now petting and fondling its new-found friend. They’ll be talking about moving in together soon.

      5) Click back in the comment area where you’re posting and now hold the CTRL key down and hit V. Your URL will now automagically appear in the comment, and all of us NIers will click on it and say, “Thank you, sjm308, for your most excellent link!”

      6) Lean back in your chair, pleased with your good work, and, with a grunt of satisfaction, pop a cold beer. You’ve earned it.

      • natsfan1a - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:43 AM

        Good work, Candide.

        Alternatively, if sjm is on a device with a menu bar, he can use the Edit drop-down menu functions for “Copy,” and then “Paste.”

        Either way, we’ll be very proud of him.

      • Candide - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:03 AM

        Either way, we’ll be very proud of him.

        Well, yeah, goes without saying… :-)

      • zmunchkin - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:56 AM

        You want to click first on the permalink link next to the comment. That will bring you right to that comment – no one has to scroll to find the comment. Initially the top of the page will load, but it will then scroll down to the specific comment.

        Here is the permalink for that comment:

        http://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-1400310.html#Fister

        In this case, it does buy you much since this is the first comment in thread. Here is one that is further down (just giving it as an example) – comment about Strasburg throwing sliders and whether it is a good idea:

        http://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-1400310.html#Strasburg-throw

  6. tcostant - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    I hate any injury to any baseball player, but the Braves might have some rotation issues out of the starting gate, so the Nats have a break going agaist them early in the season. Let sweep that fist home set of the year!

  7. natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    The Barves have been built on get a lead for the 6th and turn it over to the bullpen and if results are wins then it’s worked as they planned it.

    Even with bullpen injuries to Venters and OFlaherty they restocked and compiled the best team ERA in the Majors.

    On top of that Chipper retires and they replace him with a player who compiled All Star numbers.

    While it looks dim for them I’m not counting them out.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      Braves would be fine if they lost either for few weeks. They can simply sign Santana and I don’t think that the drop-off would be huge.

      • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        Sounds simple until you factor in the Braves did their spending already and Santana will cost close to $14 million on a 1 year deal.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:13 AM

        at this point, it seems they are willing to expand their budget a little. so it may take them out of their comfort zone, but hardly that big of an issue I think.

      • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:16 AM

        This is an unusual time that a pitcher of Ervin Santana’s calibre is available. Keep in mind he is a inconsistent pitcher in recent years. Last year he was very good and in fact #8 in th AL which bodes well for a switch to a NL team if he can repeat last year’s success. Certainly not a given.

  8. NatsLady - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    (Almost) every pitcher has an inflammed arm after pitching. That’s why they ice, most of them (Gio doesn’t, but JZ goes the full boat). The first day or two after pitching is spent simply healing and reducing the inflammation. The pitchers feel “regular” soreness, but if it’s not what they are used to, they will recognize it almost immediately (remember, these guys have been throwing for a decade-plus by this time).

    After two days’ rest, they can throw again, hence the “side-session.” This is usually limited to a few dozen pitches and often might focus on a particular pitch the guy is working on.

    In Fister’s case, we may be looking at a medical staff that is more cautious than he is accustomed to. The Nats have a lot of experience up and down that line with injured pitchers, and bringing pitchers back from injury and that may lead them to take every word a pitcher says very seriously. He may have said something to trigger alarm bells, even though it’s what he “normally” feels. At that point the training staff went into their protocol –and the media went into theirs–and here we are.

    • tcostant - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      I think Boswell nailed it when he said that the Nats medical staff has a frighting record of under estimating return dates. Morse & Storen are two resent examples…

      • Section 222 - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:13 AM

        Ramos, Harper, Werth, Espi, Zim, the list goes on and on and on. And that’s just current players. I pretty much discount any report that says “we’re not worried” or “no structural damage” and just keep my fingers crossed.

      • Hiram Hover - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:11 AM

        Yes, but is this a unique problem to the Nats, or is it a problem with all major league medical staffs, and more particularly, the info they are willing to make public?

        Or is it just as that as Nats fans, we’re particularly prone to notice when our medical staff gets it wrong (at least in what they say publicly)?

      • therealjohnc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:29 AM

        In my experience this is true of every. single. MLB medical staff. I haven’t (in my unscientific survey of generally nosing around as a baseball fan) seen a team’s fan site for a team that doesn’t regularly castigate their team’s doctors for precisely this failing. We’re just more aware of the Nats’ misadventures in this area because we are more invested.

        I also think there is a tendancy to immediately forget/dismiss any situation where the medical staff is accurate from the get-go – and to remember forever when the final diagnosis doesn’t track the original public release.

      • Doc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:36 AM

        The “…we’re not worried…” refrain is standard bullshoi in most MLB front offices.

        The clowns that utter it really think that they can fool for as long as they need to fool us.

        With respect to the Nats, we have learned to not be fooled. Rizzo and Co. utter such nonsense, at risk of looking like fools themselves!

  9. natsfan1a - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    hmmm. “resent.” Was that a Freudian typo, by any chance? ;-)

  10. natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    Bowden put together a list of 10 players who have evaluators excited this year and the #1 is Ryan Zimmerman.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      I can’t see the full list but has Bowden ever got any sort of list right?

      • Jb - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:46 AM

        When asked to list players who compare well with Derek Jeter, he included Ian Desmond. Got that right.

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      Exciting why? I’d think excitement lies in the unknown and the possibility of a breakout performance.

      Zim is a pretty familiar quantity at this point–we cant be sure which Zim shows up, but we’ve pretty much seen the range.

      • therealjohnc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:31 AM

        According to Bowden, scouts are excited because Zimmerman is flashing shoulder strength and throwing accuracy in Spring Training. Scouts don’t care about ST stats, but they care a lot about health.

      • Hiram Hover - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:36 AM

        Thanks – as a fan, I will certainly be excited to see that Zim show up!

  11. adcwonk - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    As I wrote yesterday, quoting an AJC Braves blog:

    “do you realize there is a real chance the Braves could begin the season with a five-man rotation that made a total of 51 major league starts in 2013, with 30 of those starts made by Julio Teheran? It could happen, given that Mike Minor still hasn’t faced hitters yet this spring and might start the season on the 15-day DL while he continues to catch up with the other starters.”

    What an astounding turn of events.

    Another AJC Braves blog speculated just like we did above, and came to the same conclusions (some of our residents here are pretty smart!):

    There’s already speculation (mostly by fans) about the Braves making a run at free agent pitcher Ervin Santana (who’s already rejected reported one-year, $14 million offers from Toronto and Baltimore).

    But let’s be serious: The Braves chose not to spend any money in the winter. They’ve opened the vault to sign five members of their young core — Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Heyward — to extensions. But there’s probably no money left to bring in somebody from the outside now, and there’s no reason to believe the organization will change course in philosophy since they didn’t show any desire to spend in the winter.

    Bottom line: The team likely would try to get by with Teheran, Beachy, Wood, Garcia, David Hale and Gavin Floyd and see how the first two months of the season go before deciding what to do. Either way, losing Medlen would be a major hit.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:26 AM

      Beachy? He won’t be ready for Opening Day either. He can’t get his fastball into the upper 80’s consistently and was pulled after 2 innings yesterday with arm tightness.

  12. cvillegoodtimes - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Not happy to hear about Medlen. I want the Barves at their best this season and to lose the NLEast to the Nats. I don’t want anyone say the Nats won the East bc Mehs, Fish, and Philthies are horrible and the Barves were wrecked by injured pitching.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      That’s exactly what they are going to say. They are a fanbase of excuses just like the Phoolies. I don’t care. Any way you win it. Injuries happen and it’s part of the game.

  13. David Proctor - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    David O’Brien ‏@ajcbraves 1m
    #Braves Medlen MRI showed “some involvement of the ligament” and he’ll get second opinion and further evaluation

    • zmunchkin - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      Wonder if it is similar injury to what happened with Harvey last year – where the Mets basically wasted a month or so before deciding he had to have TJ surgery.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:00 AM

      It’s not good even if it’s a small tear. The rest and heal process is putting off the inevitable.

      Again, Nats have been at this juncture before. Depth matters. When Bryce went down last year the Nats couldn’t come close to getting near his production.

      This makes any decision on Fister more critical if there is any bone chips in there take care of it now as your #1 opponent is also dealing with issues. If Fister is ready to go, put the pedal to the metal and show no mercy. Run this thing.

  14. nats106 - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    I don’t want the braves at their best at all. I want them to play the entire NL East with their #3 Pitcher from their Rome farm team.

    While I feel a little for Medlen, this should speak volumes about how the Braves management handles their pitchers. Isn’t it the Braves that so upset Boras and their handling of Steve Avery?

    Hello Mr. Wren, this is your rep from Lloyds of London. Can we talk about your insurance premiums for your starting pitchers.

    On a separate topic I heard that their Doctors use the tomahawk chop when performing TJ Surgery.

    • therealjohnc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      I want the Braves at their absolute best, and to lose to the Nats in an epic race, and possibly again in the playoffs. I’d be happy to see the Nats be Affirmed to the Braves’ Alydar – a rivalry like that brings out the best in both sides.

      • nats106 - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:39 AM

        Well, now your’re talking, but rather than Affirmed/Alydar, I want the Nationals to be Secretariat at the Belmont when everyone was saying that he couldn’t dominate because the Belmont was 1.5 miles.

      • therealjohnc - Mar 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        For clarity, the “possibly” there only refers to “if the Braves make it that far.”

        Just for clarity …

  15. philipd763 - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Any of the potential starters beyond Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio, and Fister are big question marks and now Fister has elbow problems. Detwiler has been hammered this spring and has a history of ailments. The others are unproven. Add closer Soriano’s sorry performance and there is plenty of uncertainty. If Fister goes down, that will hurt big time. I wonder if Dombroski foisted off damaged goods on Rizzo when he practically gave Fister away. Fister might have been experiencing the same type of elbow problem at the end of last season. He’s pitched a lot of innings over the last four or five seasons. I hope Fister doesn’t end up being another Jason Marquis, another damaged goods foisted off on Rizzo.

    • pdowdy83 - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      Philip that seems a bit short sighted on Jason Marquis. He was actually pretty good in 20 starts his 2nd season and was flipped for Zach Walters at the deadline.

      There is a difference between the first 2 weeks of spring training and the regular season. Anyone who is looking at stats right now is just fishing for things to complain about.

    • therealjohnc - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      Even if Fister was damaged goods, it was still a dumb trade because the Tigers could have gotten more for Fister.

      And given that Rizzo flipped Jason Marquis for Zach Walters, (as well as getting Ramos for Matt Capps, Roark for the decaying remains of Guzman, and Cole, Krol and Treinan for Morse, etc.) are we really going to start carping on him for signing Fister before ST is out?

  16. Faraz Shaikh - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    here is nats and braves schedules for comparison sake –
    Nationals:
    Cardinals – 7
    angels – 3
    Padres – 7
    Astros – 4
    dodgers – 6
    A’s – 3
    Dbacks – 7
    Reds – 6
    Pirates – 7
    Rangers – 3
    Giants – 7
    brewers – 6
    cubs – 7 (doubleheader on 28th June?)
    rockies – 6
    orioles – 4
    mariners – 3

    braves:
    brewers – 7
    reds – 7
    giants – 6
    cards – 6
    cubs – 6
    rockies – 7
    red sox – 4
    mariners – 4
    dbacks – 6
    angels – 3
    astros – 3
    padres – 7
    dodgers – 7
    a’s – 3
    pirates – 7
    rangers – 3

    that double header is curious. maybe wrigley has other plans on sunday.

    honestly both schedules look similar.

  17. nats106 - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Double header was at Alderman Tom Tunney made the request in order to ease congestion in the neighborhood during the annual Pride Parade that is taking place around that time.

    • NatsLady - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Yes. Charlie and Dave are SO happy to have a Sunday off! They were funny on the radio yesterday.

  18. NatsLady - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    As for Soriano, I am watching Papelbon get shelled in yesterday’s game, to the tune of 5 runs (all unearned because of an error). He also struck out three batters. It happens.

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