Washington Nationals Bullpen Woes Must Be Resolved Internally

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: Koda Glover #32 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

With the exception of Jeremy Guthrie‘s first inning collapse Saturday night, the Washington Nationals have gotten off to a good start in 2017. Winning three of their first five games, the Nationals have been competitive on the young season. That’s thanks to the production they’ve received from both their lineup and starting rotation. With Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, as well as offseason acquisitions Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters, hitting well at the plate, the Nationals lineup has been able to produce at a high level.

The rotation has executed as well. With Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer all surrendering just two or fewer runs on the mound, the starters have been able to keep them in games. Their bullpen, however, has not. If the Nationals bullpen woes are to end, they can only be resolved internally.

Nationals Bullpen Woes Must Be Resolved Internally

Treinen’s Struggles

Just a week before opening day, manager Dusty Baker announced that righty Blake Treinen would take the reins as closer – a role many thought he’d do well in.

In years past, Treinen had been a reliable setup man in both the seventh and eighth innings. Given his success in that role, many in the Nationals organization believed he’d do well as the team’s closer. Yet, Treinen has struggled as closer this season.

In four appearances, Treinen has recorded an ERA over eight; however, he has only blown one of those save situations. Despite being assisted by run production, Treinen cannot continue to put the Nationals in danger in the closing moments of games.

While he’s already recorded three saves this season, Treinen has done so in the worst way: by giving up runs in the process. If he’s to remain the team’s closer, Treinen must improve his arsenal and surrender fewer runs in the ninth. If he does not, the Nationals have two other righties who could potentially replace him.

Kelley’s Struggles

If Treinen continues to put the Nationals in danger, then Baker can opt to make one of two righties the team’s closer: Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover. Of the two, Kelley has the most big league experience.

In his eight-year career, Kelley has appeared in setup situations, and has done well. In 2015, Kelley appeared in 53 games and recorded a 2.51 ERA in 51.1 innings. Kelley then signed with the Nationals, and continued to blossom in the role. In 2016, he appeared in 67 games and recorded a 2.64 ERA in 58 innings.

Despite his success in a setup role, Kelley has struggled in save situations. In 23 chances, Kelley has blown 12. Given his shakiness in the ninth inning, not going with Kelley as the closer was the right move for Baker. His struggles thus far this season also solidify that notion.

In his two appearances this year, Kelley has recorded an abysmal 13.00 ERA. While the season is still in its first week, the Nationals cannot afford to have both Trienen and Kelley struggle in the late innings. If they continue to do so, the Nationals will have to make a change. Promoting Glover would be the way to go.

Internal Solutions

While he’s only pitched 21.2 innings in the big leagues, Glover has been one of the few reliable arms in the Nationals bullpen this season; in two appearances, he has not surrendered a run.

Before the year began, Glover was receiving legit consideration to be the team’s closer. While the position was ultimately given to Treinen, his inability to keep the game out of harm has been alarming and could lead to a change. That change could feature Glover being promoted or righty Trevor Gott (acquired in a 2015 trade with the Los Angeles Angels) being sent up to the big leagues.

While he’s appeared in just nine games for the Nationals, Gott was acquired to help add some bullpen depth. If brought up, the Nationals could see whether Gott can finally maintain a role in the late innings.

While they do have some options to replace Treinen if he continues to regress, the Nationals would likely prefer to make a trade for a bullpen upgrade; however, due to the massive price tag they met to acquire Eaton, they cannot do so.

The Eaton Trade Left the Nationals Little to No Trade Assets

Back at the MLB Wnter Meetings, the Nationals and Chicago White Sox pulled off a four-player blockbuster deal. Washington received Eaton from Chicago in exchange for top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as 2015 first round pick Dane Dunning. This move gave the Nationals the outfield upgrade they needed, but also decimated their farm system.

What was once one of the best farms in baseball is now been depleted. While Eaton has been a welcomed addition to the Nationals lineup, the trade prevents Washington from pursuing a bullpen upgrade on the market.

Some would argue that top prospect Victor Robles could be dealt for such an upgrade, but Robles value to the Nationals is now sky-high. With Harper hitting free agency in 2018, and Jayson Werth hitting free agency this winter, the Nationals need Robles more than ever to provide long-term depth in their outfield.

Nationals Bullpen Woes Must Be Resolved Internally

While the season is still young, the Nationals bullpen is a glaring issue. Given that it’s hurt them in years past, the Nationals must work through their bullpen’s struggles. They must do so internally. If they cannot, they’ll be in a heap of trouble.

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