Dec 19, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
One of the toughest tasks for any first-time manager is bullpen usage, and that figures to be among the more intriguing aspects of Matt Williams’ inaugural season as skipper of the Nationals.
Williams inherits a Washington bullpen loaded at the back end with three right-handers who have all enjoyed success as a closer in the last three seasons: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. The rest of the relief corps, though, is less-defined.
Obviously, the recently acquired Jerry Blevins will hold a key role as the group’s top left-hander, though it remains to be seen if he’ll be used as a pure matchup lefty or as someone who regularly pitches a full inning.
And, obviously, Craig Stammen will be a part of the Opening Day bullpen as well, offering a fairly unique set of skills that allows the right-hander to be used almost any way his manager desires. Stammen has shown he can be a long man and pitch three or four innings if needed. He has also shown he can pitch his way out of a jam in a setup role. And he has established rare durability for a guy who throws as many relief innings as he does.
So that takes care of five jobs, leaving a whole mess of relievers battling for two final spots on the roster.
— Ryan Mattheus is coming off a disastrous season that included a self-inflicted broken hand from punching a locker, a midseason demotion to Class AAA and a final ERA of 6.37 with a staggering 67 batters reaching base in only 35 1/3 innings. But Mattheus is only one season removed from a stellar campaign in which he posted a 2.85 ERA while putting only 76 men on base in 66 1/3 innings.
— Ross Ohlendorf was recently re-signed for $1.25 million following a surprising comeback season. Unlikely to beat out the competition for a rotation spot, the veteran right-hander most likely fits in as a long reliever, a role he handled well this year.
— Tanner Roark also enjoyed a surprising, breakthrough season, first as a durable long reliever and then as a starter, leaving the right-hander in the mix for either the No. 5 spot in the rotation or a long man’s spot in the bullpen.
— Xavier Cedeno didn’t draw many headlines, but the journeyman was the Nationals’ most-effective lefty reliever in 2013, allowing only one run in 11 appearances and retiring 17 of the 23 big-league hitters he faced. If Williams believes he needs two lefties in his pen, Cedeno would be an obvious choice to join Blevins.
— Ross Detwiler, though, could figure into this whole equation if he doesn’t open the season as the Nationals’ fifth starter. General manager Mike Rizzo has declined so far this winter to hand Detwiler a rotation spot and has dropped hints he could be used out of the bullpen. Given his lack of relief experience, you’d have to assume he could only serve as a left-handed long man, not in a role that would require pitching on back-to-back days.
Suffice it to say, the Nationals have their share of options. It’ll be up to Rizzo and Williams to figure out how to sort all that out.
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