The Washington Nationals were dealt a rough hand this off-season. With relievers Mark Melancon, Matt Belisle, and Marc Rzepczynski all departing through free agency, a big chunk of the Nationals bullpen was lost. As a result of their losses, the Nationals had to regroup and decide just how they wanted to replace them; however, instead of going out on the free agent or trade market, they opted to find their key replacements internally, for the most part. While they did sign former Los Angeles Dodgers long reliever Joe Blanton, and trade for Rays southpaw Enny Romero, the Nationals made no landmark moves, as far as their bullpen is concerned.
Manager Dusty Baker‘s ability to trust that bullpen though will be crucial.
Dusty Baker’s Ability To Trust The Washington Nationals Bullpen Will Be Crucial:
While they have a lot of confidence in their bullpen’s ability to make up for the losses of Melancon, Belisle and Rzepczynski, the Nationals bullpen is an experienced bunch in regards to closing. That brings about the question of who will step up and man the ninth inning?
Last year, the Nationals went with two righties as set up men to Jonathan Papelbon (before he was released) and Melancon with Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen. Both Kelley and Treinen were productive in 2016.
Kelley came to the nation’s capital on a three year/ 15 million dollar deal just a year ago, and pitched up to his contract. Appearing in 67 games, Kelley recorded a 2.64 ERA, to go along with 80 strikeouts in 58.0 innings pitched. Overall, his numbers were productive in 2016. However, one flaw in Kelley’s game is and was that he’s struggled as a closer – a position which he is in the running for.
In 23 career closing opportunities, Kelley has blown 12 of them. His inability to close out games on a consistent basis is a little alarming for manager Dusty Baker, given the Nationals lack of pure closers. The same goes for Blake Treinen.
Last year, Blake Treinen really came into his own as a go-to option out of the bullpen for the Nationals. After a brief stint in the rotation a couple of years ago, Treinen was moved to the bullpen in 2015, and only grew as a reliever in 2016. Appearing in 73 games, Treinen recorded a 2.28 ERA, to go along with 63 strikeouts in 67.0 innings pitched. Much like Kelley, Treinen had a good 2016 season, but he also possesses an identical liability.
In six career closing opportunities, Treinen has blown five saves. His lackluster performance in the ninth inning brings about reasonable doubt as to whether he could man the ninth inning permanently. That has Baker a bit uneasy as well, as he may be leaning towards a different arm in the ninth inning, though it may not be a familiar face.
While both Kelley and Treinen have, at the very least, some experience in the closer role (while not very productive), Glover has little to none, but is still receiving some high interest from Baker regardless.
Last year, Glover appeared in just 19 games, and didn’t pitch at a very consistent and reliable level.
When he was called up to the big leagues in late July, Glover was solid. In his first four appearances, he didn’t surrender a single run. After that, he was very shaky. Ending the year with a high ERA of 5.03, Glover struggled to get batters out, and pitch with consistency. But 2017 could potentially see a more reliable and productive Glover.
With the closer role up for grabs, Glover has a fair shot at winning the job. Also, this year Glover is pitching for a big time role in the Nationals bullpen. Last year, he wasn’t, as he was thrown around to a number of different spots in the bullpen, which contributed to his struggles.
If Glover can stretch out his pitching arsenal in the foreseeable future, then he just may be able to be the Nationals’ 2017 closer. Doing so will also be heavily reliant on Dusty Baker’s ability to trust not just him, but the rest of the Nationals bullpen.
Dusty Baker’s Ability To Trust His Bullpen Will Be Crucial
While the Nationals have a number of candidates for the closing and set up positions, Baker has to make a hard decision on who to hand the ball off to in the ninth inning. That’s due to the fact that the candidates he has for the position have been lackluster in the past in the spot. Baker’s ability to choose and trust his decision will be crucial in the 2017 season.