Apr 29, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT
Updated at 6:06 p.m.
ATLANTA — Seeking some experienced help for a bullpen that has struggled through the season’s first three weeks, the Nationals have signed veteran Jose Valverde to a minor-league contract, general manager Mike Rizzo confirmed Wednesday evening.
Valverde, 37, has been at the Nationals’ spring training complex in Viera, Fla., for about a week, building his arm up after getting released by the Padres last month. The club will make a decision soon whether to send the veteran right-hander to a minor-league affiliate, the big leagues or whether to pass altogether.
“It was a minor-league deal, and we’ll see where it takes us,” Rizzo said. “If we can catch lightning in a bottle with him, it certainly would be a good story.”
Valverde provides some low-risk insurance for a Nationals bullpen that has seen massive turnover in the last six months. The five relievers who threw the most innings for the club in 2014 are now all gone (Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins) or injured (Craig Stammen). Additionally, veteran right-hander Casey Janssen (signed over the winter to take over primary setup duties) has yet to debut due to tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.
Valverde’s deal includes no guarantee he’ll make the big-league roster, but if he convinces club officials he is big-league-ready over the next few weeks, he could be called up and provide some immediate veteran presence to a bullpen that is sorely lacking in experienced arms.
Aside from closer Drew Storen and 38-year-old lefty Matt Thornton, the Nationals bullpen currently consists of starter-turned-reliever Tanner Roark, second-year right-handers Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen and rookie left-hander Matt Grace. Grace is one of three relievers who has made his major-league debut for the Nationals in the last two weeks, along with recently demoted right-hander Rafael Martin and injured lefty Felipe Rivero.
Valverde is a 3-time All-Star with 288 career saves and a 3.27 ERA in 626 appearances with four franchises, but he has been woefully ineffective over the last two seasons with a 5.63 ERA in 41 combined games between the Tigers and Mets.
Originally signed by the Diamondbacks in 1997 out of his native Dominican Republic, the big reliever known as “Papa Grande” first made a name for himself in Arizona when Rizzo was scouting director.
“We saw him in the Winter Leagues,” Rizzo said. “His velocity was there. He’s got a track record. We’ve got a relationship with him. He’s a guy I signed a long time ago, and I know he’s a guy who will fit into any clubhouse he goes and pitches with.”
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