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Rivero adds to impressive rookie year with first save

Oct 2, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

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ATLANTA — Felipe Rivero arrived at his first big-league spring training a promising-but-raw starter who figured to spend the season perfecting his stuff in the minors, hoping perhaps someday well down the road an opportunity would open for him to join the Nationals’ stacked rotation.

That, of course, didn’t happen. Not that Rivero is complaining. He wound up reaching the majors much sooner than anticipated, wound up spending the majority of the season pitching in Washington’s bullpen and now looks like a potential closer for this organization in the not-too-distant future.

“This year has been kind of a blessing for me,” the 24-year-old left-hander said. “I got my first win and my first save in the same year. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Rivero recorded that first win way back on June 24 when he pitched the 11th inning of a 2-1 victory over the Braves. And on Thursday night at Turner Field, he notched that first save, tossing two scoreless innings to preserve a 3-0 victory and add yet another fine moment to an already impressive rookie season.

“He’s stepped forward,” manager Matt Williams said. “That’s a good sign for him and a good sign for this organization.”

Acquired along with Jose Lobaton in the February 2014 trade that sent pitcher Nate Karns to the Rays, Rivero has always had an electric arm. But he dealt with injuries in his first season with the Nationals organization, making only 14 starts (most at Class AA Harrisburg) and finishing with a 5.20 ERA.

Then came the news this spring of the move to the bullpen. Not every young pitcher deals with that the same way, but Rivero chose to take the news delivered to him by Williams as an opportunity to reach the big leagues sooner.

“I was like: ‘Oh, OK. I gotta make the team that way,'” Rivero said. “He told me one day he liked me as a reliever for us. OK, let’s do it.”

When the Nationals dealt with all sorts of bullpen issues in April, Rivero got a quick call-up from Class AA Syracuse. He made one appearance but then landed on the disabled list with a gastrointestinal bleeding issue that required medical attention. He returned in early June and hasn’t looked back since, posting a 2.85 ERA, 0.972 WHIP and 3.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Because of his background as a starter, Rivero often was used as a long reliever earlier in the summer, taking advantage of his stamina. But he has transitioned into more of a late-inning role down the stretch, allowing him to dial up his fastball to as much as 99 mph at times.

And because he has been equally effective against right-handed batters (hitting .205 against him) and lefties (.200), Rivero has proven himself more than a specialist. He might just profile as a closer some day soon.

“His stuff profiles in any inning,” Williams said. “He’s new to this. First year out, he’s done pretty well. Tonight is an example of what he can do. He can work through righties and lefties if needed. We’ll see what the future holds.”

  1. unkyd59 - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    He and Trienan are locks, for the ‘pen next year…. Is there anyone else?

    • alexva6 - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:17 AM

      Stammen, if healthy

      no one else on my list

      • unkyd59 - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:26 AM

        Of course! I knew there was someone else… So Rizzo will be shopping for 4 guys, two of which should be reliable as closers…. Piece of cake, right?

      • unkyd59 - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:35 AM

        It’ll be great to have Craig back… Looking back, was his injury the most impactful?

      • natsfan1a - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:43 AM

        #35

      • natsfan1a - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:58 AM

        D’oh! That was supposed to be a plus, not a hashtag. Stoopid fingers…

        +35

        There, that’s better.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 2, 2015 at 3:35 PM

        At this point, even for-sure MLB guys already signed for next season, Papelbon and Storen, aren’t locks for this ‘pen.

        Barrett is probably out for 2016, and maybe part of 2017.

        Thornton will pitch somewhere, and Rizzo might well like to bring him back at the right price (he got about $3.5MM in 2015), assuming Thornton wants to come back.

      • natsnat - Oct 2, 2015 at 3:49 PM

        I want to see what Erik Davis can do coming off TJ. He could be a decent righty specialist or set up guy.

    • jfmii - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:16 PM

      I don’t consider Treinan a lock next year. Other than Storen’s August and September meltdown, he had the most damaging outings from the bullpen. Too many times came up short when the game was on the line.

      • sec112 - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:50 PM

        +1

  2. voteforno6 - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Papelbon back, actually. Storen might have zero trade value, so he could return as well.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 2, 2015 at 3:48 PM

      I don’t see how bringing back both Storen and Papelbon works, and I don’t see how keeping one only works, and losing both of them turns this bullpen into one massive problem

      Rizzo totally and emphatically doesn’t trust Storen as a closer, which makes his the only opinion on the subject that matters, and Drew doesn’t even trust himself in the other roles, it would seem. And Papelbon just choked the presumptive NL MVP, and once-and-future Nats FOF. He’s got to be gone. Just has to.

      Neither can stay, and without both, you have basically no reliable bullpen arms at all, just rookies and rehab jobs.

      But Rizzo painted himself into this corner, and it’s hard to see how he gets out of it by trading both of them.

  3. JayB - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    Not a chance Pap or Storen returns…..this is the lesson that Rizzo must finally learn from all this…..some players are who they are and no more chances or reverts to past norms should be given…..take your loss, admit your errors and move on.

    • unkyd59 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      I agree with you, JayB (wow…that didn’t hurt at all! I might try it again, sometime😉). I think Storen will be a good closer, somewhere, but Rizzo has ruined him, for this team. No choice but to trade him, which makes it harder to get anything useful in return. But he may be with more than Paps, who is a jerk, and is older… I also think there’s no choice there, as he so publicly wore out his welcome, here. As for his no-trade, I understand that that its limited, meaning that there are a handful of teams that he can’t veto a trade to. What sucks is that basically, we have two elite closers, who due to Rizzos mishandling of the situation, we may not be able to trade for two middle relief guys. I’m still a resolute Rizzo booster, but this ugly situation his to own…

      • unkyd59 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:08 AM

        “May be worth more…”

      • Section 222 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:25 AM

        No one ruined Storen. He did that all by himself.

        I agree that both will not be in the bullpen next year. At least I sure hope they won’t be.

      • jfmii - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:21 PM

        I, too, agree with JayB, and I disagree with unkyd59 insomuch as I think Storen’s time has passed as a closer. You now have Game 5, 2012, Game 2, 2014, and then how many blown leads when there was a pennant race in 2015? I guess he could be a closer for a lower-division team where there is no pressure.

      • Steady Eddie - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:51 PM

        It will be harder and will cause the Nats more to deal Papelbon than Storen. The reason is pretty obvious: there are very few teams that might have the need and feel they have the coaching staff to deal with the headaches that bringing Papelbon on will involve. Other teams know that the Nats really can’t keep him (all of Harper’s good soldier comments about needing him and him needing the team were just part of a fairly transparent effort to give the illusion that the Nats had a viable path to keeping him, which simply ain’t so), so their leverage in any negotiation with an interested buyer (if any exist) is small to vanishing.

        That just ain’t the case with Storen. Even if other teams know that the Nats really do need to deal him, there are without question going to be multiple competitors for his services.

      • legnatsfan - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:28 PM

        You would think that Rizzo would have learned from what happened to Drew’s performance after the Soriano signing and not repeated the same scenario again. Rizzo should have traded Drew last winter if he didn’t have confidence in him as a closer. The Pap signing was an epic fail on so many levels.

      • jd - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:57 PM

        222,

        I disagree with you 1000%. Storen had an ERA of 1.34 for 2014 and 2015 combined at the time of the Paplebon acquisition. You don’t think doing that well and being demoted doesn’t s*rew with your confidence?

        You are harsh.

      • jfmii - Oct 2, 2015 at 2:43 PM

        jd, Regarding Storen, it will never be proven whether or not it was the acquisition of Papelbon that did Storen in. But given Storen’s history, there is just as much damning evidence that says when the importance of the games increased, when the stakes were higher–as in that last Mets series–he melted down. Can’t prove that is why he collapsed, but has to be considered.

    • natsfan1a - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:13 AM

      I do think that Storen needs a change of scenery and I sincerely hope that Papelbon is Papelgone. The latter can’t happen soon enough for me.

      • sunshinebobby - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:40 PM

        Nook Logan and Nyjer Morgan have as much chance of making the 2016 Nats roster as Papelbum and Storen.

        They gone.

    • langleyclub - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      Assuming a 7 man bullpen:

      LHP:

      Rivero

      RHP:

      Stammen
      Treinen
      David Carpenter

      So, that would leave 3 spots to fill (2 spots if Barrett returns to health), but those spots would likely be the: a) the closer b) the primary 8th inning guy and c) LOOGY (possibly could be Grace, but probably not).

      Think the Nats will make a run at Kimbrel from the Pads, but CK has a team friendly contract that ($11 million to $13 million/year through 2018), the Padres would ask for a lot.

      • Section 222 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:26 AM

        I’m pretty sure Barrett will miss the whole season recovering from TJ.

        Martin seems like a solid middle inning guy, no? And Grace will get a shot at being the LOOGY. I hope both are better than they were this year.

      • DaveB - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:01 PM

        I would not be at all shocked to see us re-sign Thornton. I think Rizzo learned his lesson on going into the season unsure of his BP LHPs a couple years ago, and Matt provides a steady, solid veteran that won’t ruffle any feathers while we wait to see if Grace or Solis can be a consistent option.

  4. Another_Sam - Oct 2, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    I’m sure that this has been said: a big factor in SS’s turnaround is losing the goatee.

    • natsfan1a - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:01 AM

      Yup, he definitely should not grow that back. 😉

    • ArVAFan - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      OK, does that mean that Espi’s revival of his career is somehow connected to that ‘stache (or whatever that was) that he was wearing up through photo day in Spring Training? I think he must have lost a bet, or something, since he shaved it right after photo day.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:15 AM

        hmmm…that is a good question. I’m not sure about this one, as Espi has frequently had some sort of facial hair configuration. Heck, the man could shave between innings and have grown-in stubble by the middle of the next one.

      • Candide - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:16 PM

        …(or whatever that was)…

        I’m pretty sure that was a mink.

      • ArVAFan - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:16 PM

        Thanks, Candide. Think you’re right. At least it wasn’t an endangered species.

      • knoxvillenat - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:24 PM

        I believe it is the Samson effect, grow the facial hair and gain more strength hence better results. Sounds good anyway. 😉

  5. JayB - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    RIzzo does own this…..he just does not know that and will never own anything it seems.

    Storen is too expensive in arbitration next year for anyone to sign him…he is not a closer on a winning team….on a losing team with no pressure sure but who would spend $ on that? So cut him lose now.

    Paps is just a jerk at the end of the line….cut him and walk away from that mess

    • alexva6 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:30 AM

      Rizzo from an interview with MLB.com two weeks ago

      “We relied on some young players in the back end of the bullpen at the back end of games and they weren’t fully-developed and fully ready for the role and I take responsibility for that portion of it.”

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 2, 2015 at 3:55 PM

        One of the reasons, maybe a big one, Rizzo pretty much had to hope the rookies could handle the bullpen: he’d already pretty much maxed out his payroll.

  6. Section 222 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:27 AM

    I love that by trading Karns, Rizzo managed to fill an immediate need for a reliable backup catcher and get a young piece of the future. Very well done.

    • Sonny G 10 - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:57 PM

      Very well done indeed!

  7. mrnat7 - Oct 2, 2015 at 12:18 PM

    Thanks Felipe Rivero for proving my point on relief pitchers! Let relivers continue to pitch when they are doing well: against right or left handed hitters. Too many Managers are making pitching more difficult then it really is( right against right and left against left.) A good pitcher can get either out! Proof, the starter faces both! If this is so important why not put the opposite at 1base and change everytime the RH or LH hitter comes to the plate. The game is not that hard and the Managers are over thinking. Plus, managers are driving fans away from the game by making the game of baseball too long and boring!

    • jskurtzke - Oct 2, 2015 at 1:02 PM

      +1

    • senators5 - Oct 2, 2015 at 2:08 PM

      Absolutely agree!!

    • jfmii - Oct 2, 2015 at 2:39 PM

      Could not disagree more. Lefty / righty matchups are critical in the last 3 innings. And if you put the opposite at first base, then you have one less hitter in the lineup.

      • jd - Oct 2, 2015 at 2:44 PM

        jfmii,

        They are critical if/when applied logically. Some players defy the odds and hit better against pitchers who throw opposite of ere they hit (Cespedes). I son’t believe you go by the lefty vs. lefty thing blindly which is exactly what MW was doing in all critical situations vs. the Mets.

      • jfmii - Oct 2, 2015 at 2:57 PM

        Yes, jd, and I would add this. Bullpen management is an art form, not an exact science, and is certainly way better understood and appreciated in hindsight. But having watched big league baseball for a long time, I have come to appreciate those who do/did it well. Regarding our friend, Mr. Williams, truly a clunker. No feel whatsoever.

  8. NatsLady - Oct 2, 2015 at 4:14 PM

    Started out using Rivero mostly against lefties. If it went L/R/L he had trouble with the righty, but as time passed he was able to get some (not all) righties out. That was when he became more trustworthy for a full inning at the back end and possibly more. Have been watching him since the beginning, and thought he had the most potential for a setup/closer role. Still feel that way.

  9. natsred4dndc - Oct 2, 2015 at 8:27 PM

    Now all Felipe needs is to figure out this “pitching out of the stretch” thing, and he’ll be pretty good.

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