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Nats bullpen in latest state of flux

Jun 2, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT


It was cause for concern in April, but then cause for comfort in May. What, then, will the Nationals’ bullpen cause in June: Soothing relief or heartburn?

We won’t know the answer to that question for awhile, but we do know that group continues to deal with changes in personnel and in roles.

The Nationals already have used 16 different relievers in two months (OK, 15 plus outfielder-turned-mop-up-man Clint Robinson). That’s four more relievers than they used in all of 2014, only six shy of the club record set during an awful 2009 campaign.

More turnover came over the last few days, with Taylor Hill recalled from Class AAA Syracuse to assume Stephen Strasburg’s roster spot, then Felipe Rivero replacing Matt Grace on Monday in a swap of lefties that came on the heels of a rough weekend sweep at the hands of the Reds.

“It’s a little bit interchangeable,” manager Matt Williams said of bullpens in general. “And depending on who you have, sometimes the bullpen is fairly set for their roles, but sometimes you have to make adjustments.”

Williams has been forced to make plenty of adjustments so far when it comes to relievers’ roles. Aside from Drew Storen holding a firm grasp on the closer’s job, everyone else has been used in just about every situation to date this season.

Blake Treinen got a chance to pitch the eighth inning in April, but that didn’t work out too well. Aaron Barrett did perform well for awhile in that spot, but the second-year right-hander has given up eight runs in his last five innings and now sports a 5.19 ERA.

The delayed debut of Casey Janssen two weeks ago following shoulder tendinitis appeared to be a significant boost for this group, and it may yet prove to be just that. Janssen was fantastic in his first three outings, capped by a nifty escape act at Wrigley Field, but then the veteran was torched for four runs in the eighth inning of Saturday’s loss in Cincinnati.

“It’s still early in his process,” Williams said. “He had some really good outings, and then had one that wasn’t so good. He’s itching to get the ball again. He’s got experience; the resume speaks for itself. So he’s been in those pressure situations, he understands it. He’s a guy that fits in the back of that bullpen.”

The Nationals already have used five different lefties out of the pen — Matt Thornton, Xavier Cedeno, Sammy Solis, Rivero and Grace — and most have been used interchangeably. Thornton is by far the most experienced and accomplished southpaw in the group, but Williams has been careful not to run the 38-year-old into the ground so far: Thornton has pitched back-to-back days only three times this season and has made 11 of his 20 overall appearances on at least two days’ rest.

The loss of Craig Stammen to a season-ending forearm injury has been noticeable, and the recent move of Tanner Roark into the rotation to replace the injured Doug Fister also has diminished the Nationals’ bullpen.

Yet for the most part, this ever-changing group has gotten the job done. The Nats bullpen’s 3.58 ERA ranks sixth in the NL, its 2.58 strikeout-to-walk rate fifth in the league.

“There are adjustments that need to be made sometimes,” Williams said. “But what we want to have is going into the seventh, eighth and ninth with a lead. We’ll be able to have our guys go out there and hopefully be able to hold those runners down and win those games. We’ve seen that a lot. It’s happened a lot. The last three games not withstanding, it’s been fairly good.”

  1. Hiram Hover - Jun 2, 2015 at 6:54 AM

    Good stuff, Mark. The uneven results and need for reshuffling are indeed causes for concern.

    One quibble – ERA isn’t a great way measure relievers, b/c of inherited runners, and the Nats BP isn’t as good as that ERA suggests.

    The Nats BP has let 33% of inherited runners score, 12th in the NL (league average is 28%).

    Measured another way – the Nats BP ranks 10th in WHIP and is tied for 10th in batting average against.

    • snopes1 - Jun 2, 2015 at 8:22 AM

      Excellent points. I’m surprised Mark would use ERA for the pen, since he’s very sabermetric-savvy. Do you happen to know the Nats’ bullpen’s OPS-against? That’s my favorite one-size-fits-all bullpen stat.

  2. alexva6 - Jun 2, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    not having Stammen and not getting Janssen until recently has caused ripple effects. Barrett, Grace, Treinen are all inexperienced. I think they all have the stuff to succeed but it takes more than stuff.

    there could be some dealing at the trade deadline if things don’t settle down. no way Rizzo goes into the post season with this many question marks

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 8:12 AM

      I disagree. Treinen and Barrett arent veterans but they now have big experience in big spots over 2 seasons. Grace is inexperienced.

      Barrett is just a inconsistent mess. He goes from major league closer of the future to turning us in to major league heartburn. How could you trust this guy in a big game on the line spot. Then again everyone has to pitch.

      • alexva6 - Jun 2, 2015 at 8:51 AM

        Treinen and Barrett have 40 and 58 innings pitching out of a MLB bullpen. with all due respect that’s inexperience in my book,

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:36 AM

        Plus Barrett has post-season experience. These are no longer rookies.

      • alexva6 - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:54 AM

        1/3 inning, one hit, 2 walks and a wild pitch

        if you consider that experience we’ll have to agree to disagree and move on

        the SF bullpen averages over 350 carreer innings with no one less than 150.

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:07 AM

        What did David Price or Adam Wainwright have for there rookie seasons and the postseason?

        They both shined and they were younger with much less pro experience.

        You make of it what you can and the cream will rise to the top as it did with both of them as relievers to start there careers.

        The rest is just useless excuses.

      • jd - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:35 AM


        For every Price or Waino there are 10 pitchers who developed over time. Barrett and Treinen may or may not but the fact remains that they both have the tools for the job so you have to say with them for quite a while before you give up.

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:45 AM

        There is no denying that but dont tell me they have no experience and are wet behind the ears. Barrett isnt young.

  3. Doc - Jun 2, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    Biggest on-going disappointment for me is Barrett. He has closer stuff, but is totally inconsistent.

    Amazing how so many guys have come up from their minor system, made a big noise, e.g. Martin, and then disappear in a cloud of runs allowed.

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 8:08 AM

      +1 on Barrett and Rafael Martin. His debut was great. I still wonder if the scouting caught up with him or the lack of adrenaline just took the electricity off of his stuff or both. Same goes with “Grace Under Fire” and so much for that moniker.

      Janssen is the one to watch.

  4. nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    The matchup baseball MW ran in Chicago last week was how you want to see him run it in the playoffs. Due to forseen circumstances with Strasburg pulled again early he changed MWs plans and the Cincy use of the bullpen was like a chop shop.

  5. laddieblahblah - Jun 2, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    “Felipe Rivero replacing Matt Grace on Monday…”

    Good call by the Ghost.

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:38 AM

      +1 Hes been on a roll for a while with inside scoop. Havent seen him on here this morning. Guessing hes still sleeping after going to the UCLA Terps game.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:24 AM

    Welcome back, Felipe Rivero. We’re all pulling for you. And for anybody else that may be able to throw strikes that can get batters out.

    The WaPo piece today implies that the Nats may go after Tyler Clippard. I could be wrong, but I see it as very unlikely to happen. First off, he would be a rental and if Beane were to move him the price would be steep, as in a pretty high prospect. Right now I don’t see the A’s moving Clipp, as with Dolittle going back to the DL, there is no other remotely dependable reliever on their staff. That said, even at 12 1/2 games back, I don’t think that they are throwing in the towel just yet. They are slowly getting other pieces back from injury, and as they have,they have been playing better ball. But, hey,what do I know? I’m wrong plenty of the time. I’d love to see Clipp back here, but I also think you’d have to pay too high of a price.

    I wish that Treinen and Barrett would give us some good reasons to have confidence in them as set up guys. Jeesh, I’d rather bring back Soriano as a set up guy than to continue to suffer the heartburn I’m getting from those two. And if he was used as a setup guy, we wouldn’t have to deal with the untuck. LOL

    Ultimately, if a trade isn’t made, AJ Cole may have to give the Nats the innings that they lost from Craig Stammen. I really don’t see anyone else up to the task with Strasburg and Fister down, forcing Roark back into the starting rotation.But the need for a long reliever was never more obvious then when Strasburg left in the 2nd inning.

    As to Matt Grace? I think that though he had a tough go of it last week, the kid is a player. He’ll be back.

    More than anybody else, the Nats really need Casey Janssen to be able to do the job that he was brought here to do. And to do it consistently.

    • alexva6 - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      good post.

      the price for a dependable reliever may be high but you don’t win in the post season with an unreliable bullpen. if the guys on staff do not step up, you have to pay the price

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:55 AM

        Agree a that a pricey trade is probably going to have to happen, I’m just doubtful that it will be for Tyler Clippard.I will say that the last time Billy Beane traded a reliever to the Nats for a prospect it has seemingly worked out pretty well for the A’s.

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:40 AM

      “The WaPo piece today implies that the Nats may go after Tyler Clippard.”

      Ghost brought that up a few weeks ago as a possibility in a multi-player package. Who knows but interesting that the WaPo feels that its in the realm of possibilites.

  7. scnatsfan - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:39 AM

    Barrett throws so many pitches that seem to be so far outside the zone; obvious balls. I’m growing very tired of him. His attitude, to me, seems to be that he thinks he is better then he is right now.

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:43 AM

      Nothing wrong with pitching out of the zone if it looks like a strike and bites into the dirt and you get swing and miss which Barrett had been capable of.

      I loved the disection of one of his at-bats when he was a head 0-2 then gave up a hit based on poor pitch execution. Nobody is swinging like you said of the obvious balls.

      • scnatsfan - Jun 2, 2015 at 9:49 AM

        Oh I agree his killer breaking ball is awesome. You look at the good, great pitchers – how many pitches an at bat did Greg Maddux give away, pitches that no one in their right mind would swing at (not including, obviously, Ian Desmond). He needs to stop wasting pitches that aren’t anywhere near the zone.

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:04 AM

        Correct. Except for Desmond, a good waste pitch has to look like a strike at some point.

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:10 AM

        Thanks and Isnt that the hard truth!

      • jd - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:10 AM

        I don’t think he’s trying to miss by as much as he’s missing. I think he’s having trouble executing.

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:12 AM

        Pitch selection is also a problem. Locating the selected pitch is also a problem.

        Hes not HenRod but hes not a reliever I think you can count on in a must win spot.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      His attitude, to me, seems to be that he thinks he is better then he is right now.

      Just out of curiosity, what is this based on? I haven’t seen any quotes from him that would indicate any kind of bad attitude/sense of entitlement. If anything, personally I’d rather see him show a bit MORE swagger on the mound.

      • jd - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:12 AM


        Like you I just love how some people have the ability to interpret what they see on TV to this extent. In reality they don’t have a clue.

      • scnatsfan - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        As I said, to me – not that it was a fact. Just the impression I get. His reactions on the mound, his reactions when he gets hit. Sorry my opinion is different then yours, obviously your impression from watching him on TV is correct while mine is unfounded.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 2, 2015 at 12:22 PM

        Well, I’m glad you deferred to my opinion, but I wasn’t asserting that I was “right,” or that you were “wrong.” I was trying to figure out if there had been a story or some quotes that I had missed along the way. That would give me context for re-evaluating my analysis and observations. Which I do from time to time when information is presented that is inconsistent with my previously held beliefs and opinions. As the saying goes: like parachutes, minds function best when open.

        The answer clearly being “no” (there is no such additional information) … carry on.

  8. jd - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:06 AM

    The concept of match ups vs. consistent roles may be a subject for interesting debate but in truth it doesn’t really matter, the only thing that maters is having relievers who can get people out. I pretty sure that most teams would prefer to have defined roles during the regular season because it helps with preperation, fights over use etc. You mix and match when you only trust certain pitchers to get certain hitters out so you bring in pitchers A to face a lefty or 2 and then pitcher B to face a righty or 2 and then if your plan isn’t working you bring in pitcher C to try and get out of the mess.

    There was absolutely nothing wrong with the way things were set up with Storen, Clip and Soriano last year until Soriano stumbled. You can’t do that this year because no one has been reliable except Storen and Thornton and Thornton is limited in usage due to his age.

    I think the Nats will have to keep swapping relievers in and out until they find something which works for a while, they have the luxury of having a relatively weak division oponents so no one will run away from them and if things remain unstable they’l make a move or 2 at the trade deadline.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      +1, particularly on your last paragraph.

      If the problem, as so many suggest, is inexperience, then Messrs. Barrett, Treinen, and Grace (and now Rivero, again) have a chance to gain some big league experience now. It may not always be pretty (hence the importance of getting more than a one-run lead), but it provides seasoning. And if that seasoning hasn’t taken by the ASG, then you begin making more serious moves.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:54 AM

        Agree, but it might be later than the ASG that any adjustments are made. Thornton was a nice cheap add late last season.

        The Nats have good young, affordable arms for the pen. They’re gaining experience and will improve.

      • Doc - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:10 AM

        Agreed, as long as the experience promotes growth. To some extent, I guess with all these newbies, we’ll just have to be patient. Barrett and Treinen should be arriving sooner, rather than later.

  9. Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 2, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    You make desperation moves like overpaying, when you’re desperate. In first place, when all your competition has their own troubles, isn’t desperate. Rizzo will still be looking for fair value, or better if he can get it, and a good fit.

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    I think the “killer slider of Aaron Barrett” is about as mythical as Bigfoot. Without putting a TV camera on every pitch, one or more of several things appears to be going on. Although the genius of the killer slider may be that it looks like a strike, and then isn’t, I’m guessing that either (A) Barrett’s slider doesn’t come out of his fingers looking like a strike or (B) batters recognize it early and lay off (maybe, for example, Barrett doesn’t conceal the ball well in his glove/hand before releasing it). A further problem may be that he seems unable to be able to throw the back-door slider that ties up RH hitters and carves through the strike zone, preferably down around the knees where the only thing the batter can do is roll over a ground ball. Either way, I believe hitters are sitting on his fastball, which is pretty much only a sinkerball and is fairly hittable, especially when it doesn’t sink — and I think it is less consistent because he is committed to the slider until he is behind in the count.

    Whatever success Soriano had wasn’t because he tricked batters into swinging at pitches outside and in the dirt. His slider didn’t break dramatically but broke just enough, and in the right places, that hitters could make only weak contact at best. (I’m not implying any interest in bringing Soriano back. It doesn’t interest me at all. The lack of any interest in him in the marketplace is much more than Boras’s methods, and more than whatever talent people think he has left. There are a lot of worse pitchers populating major league BPs. I think it says more than we knew about how much people just didn’t want to have him around.)

    • lplipty - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:13 AM

      btw, Barrett’s slider hasnt been the same since that scum joewest called him for a balk last year,

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 2, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      Theo – Here in the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot is not considered mythical. Maybe no one can prove he exists, but who’s to say that’s not because the tribe knows something about hiding from authorities.

  11. lplipty - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    I really would like Rizzo to “do whatever he has to, to transform and transmogrify” the Nats bullpen. I’m hoping for Aldrois Chapman.

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      He has to do something and probaly will. Just hold your breath on what it will cost in trade.

  12. Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    Which reminds me … Since we have a few hours …

    Seeing the headline on the DC United DC United may bolt for VA story, and talking to relatives from Melbourne, Fla., does anyone who actually knows have an update on the shared Nats/Astros venue in WPB? Last I heard, it did not have the actual final official green light.

  13. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:25 AM

    Up late with the Terps in Cali. Beat the #1 team in the nation which was UCLA. LaMonte Wade is one of the most exciting players in the country. A human highlight reel. Threw out a guy at home after several diving catches to go with a over the fence catch over the weekend.

    Mooney the closer with a 3 inning save that was to eerily familiar. 2-1 game he gets 2 quick outs then back to back singles in a no doubles defense that put men on 3rd and 1st and he K’d the final batter.

    Some of the UCLA prospects for the draft were stifled and the scouts were there to watch them but several Terps stood out.

    Hard to think that if Max Fried and Lucas Giolito didn’t go pro, they’d be pitching for UCLA.

    • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:35 AM

      I just did a Twitter search of Lamonte Wade. Very cool. Defense looks MLB ready.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:44 AM

        What if I told you he was a 1st baseman and not a good one last year.

        What if I told you he had hamate surgery earlier this year to where he missed significant time.

        Everyone that tells me position changes don’t work are wrong. LaMonte couldn’t scoop throws last year and had 8 errors at 1st base. They moved him back to the outfield where he played a few times in 2013 to see if he could catch fly balls and he adapted quickly.

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 11:46 AM

        Looks like it might work out for him. The last outfielder the Nats drafted from the Terps was Justin Maxwell. If at first you dont succeeed, try try again.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 2, 2015 at 12:19 PM

        Yeah, JMax has done pretty well for himself and the Turtle, hasn’t he?

      • nats128 - Jun 2, 2015 at 12:53 PM

        I think any time you can stick on a MLB roster you have done pretty well. Where else can you make 1/2 a $million plus benefits and a great pension plan!





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