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Williams prefers 2 lefties, 1 long man in bullpen

Feb 17, 2014, 6:00 AM EST


VIERA, Fla. — Though there always are outside factors that affect the decision come the final week of spring training, Matt Williams does know at the outset what his ideal bullpen configuration would look like.

The Nationals’ new manager said Sunday he’d prefer to carry two left-handers in his pen, but only one long reliever.

“We’ll look at it and see what our best club is,” Williams said. “Ideally, everybody would like to have two lefties they can maneuver in and out of a game. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Nationals would be thrilled merely to have one quality left-handed reliever after struggling through an assortment of less-than-inspiring options last season. They believe they acquired one in Jerry Blevins, picked up in a December trade with the Athletics, but there’s still room for another.

That second lefty could be Xavier Cedeno, the 27-year-old who was impressive in limited action with the Nationals last season: one run and five hits allowed in six innings. It could be Sammy Solis, the highly rated prospect who likely needs more minor-league seasoning but could crack the big-league roster sometime this summer.

It could even be Ross Detwiler, should the organization decide to make Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan its No. 5 starter and shift Detwiler to the bullpen. Or the Nationals might ultimately feel they’re better off with only Blevins pitching from the left side in their bullpen and stocking the rest with right-handers.

Williams also must figure out how his long man figures into the equation. Predecessor Davey Johnson liked to carry two long relievers/emergency starters, one righty and one lefty, but the new manager doesn’t find that necessary at this point.

“We need a long guy, certainly somebody that can throw multiple innings if we get in a jam,” Williams said. “He doesn’t have to be right-handed. He doesn’t have to be left-handed. We don’t need two of them. Because we have starters that can go deep into the game.”

As things stand at the outset of camp, there appear to be five relievers all but assured of spots on the Opening Day roster: closer Rafael Soriano, right-handed setup men Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, lefty Blevins and versatile right-hander Craig Stammen (who could potentially serve as the long man).

That would leave two bullpen spots up for grabs among a host of candidates: right-handers Ryan Mattheus, Christian Garcia, Roark (if he’s not the No. 5 starter), Ross Ohlendorf, Luis Ayala, Manny Delcarmen and Clay Hensley; plus left-handers Cedeno and Detwiler (if he’s not the No. 5 starter).

“It’s about who throws well, how we do the roster at the end of spring training and who’s going to be best for us,” Williams said. “All those things come into play. At this point, that’s an unknown. But depth is good. We have some lightning arms in our pitching staff. That’s a good thing.”

  1. nats128 - Feb 17, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    Last year Davey was stuck with Dan Haren who seemed to need a long reliever on standby for most of his starts. Haren didnt make it past the 5th inning for 13 of his starts.

    This year I would agree that Matty can plan on a more traditional bullpen of 1 longman. He also wont be stuck with relievers like Henry Rodriguez who had no options or even a Rule 5 guy like Broderick that unfortunately was part of the mix a few years back.

    This could be the first year in a long time that all 7 relievers will be guys that can be plugged in for multiple roles and the manager wont need to hide in the pen. This will also help in not over using certain relievers like in the past.

    • sjm308 - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:47 AM

      Not to stick up for Davey but he also had just one lefty and he was shaky at best. Where is Zack Duke now?
      Makes you sort of wonder just how much of a voice Davey had in roster construction, or maybe he was just sailing into his last year and not pushing. One thing JayB & I agree on is that Davey was perfect for this team when he replaced Riggleman but in his last year, not so much.

      • nats128 - Feb 17, 2014 at 9:01 AM

        I think I was sort of sticking up for Davey however I cant say who for certain made the decision going back to Riggleman for arms in the pen like Henry Rodriguez, Duke, Broderick, etc I think ultimately Rizzo has to take the blame there unless the Manager made the decision to keep a player but sometimes its choosing the obvious players and when you get to the 6th and 7th man the pool of talent just isnt there and you default to lousy players. Whether you judged Henry Rodriguez correctly from the start as a hack or now in hindsight, he was a mistake from the begining.

        I have long agreed with those who say you cant go into a bullpen fight with only 5 bullets when you need 7 and more ammo on your belt just in case!

        I think it has taken until now for the team to have the right mix and depth in the Minors. The team doesnt have that dominating lefty that some teams carry however as the Cardinals showed, you can do it with dominant righties who can get anyone out. Blevins is hopefully the answer. Sammy Solis could be a wild card in all of this at some point. Early reports on Soriano are more encouraging as to the shape he came into camp in.

      • Sonny G 10 - Feb 17, 2014 at 11:30 PM

        I think Rizzo showed ownership of the team makeup when he fired Rick Epstein over Davey’s objections. He may let a manager have a say, but if Rizzo doesn’t want a player, he’s gone.

  2. dgourds - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Hm… Williams wants 2 lefties and a 1 long man in the pen. Ross Detweiler is lefty. Det can certainly do long relief. Put him in the pen Matty! Roark should be the 5th starter. Use Stammen as an alternate set up man. He’s too good for long relief. If Garcia is 100%, give him the last spot. Done! Great bullpen and starting rotation.

  3. Section 222 - Feb 17, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    This takes us back to the bullpen I said I favored several weeks ago — Soriano, Clip, Storen, Stammen, Blevins, Ohlendorf, and Cedeno. But Garcia is a real wild card here. If he’s actually healthy enough to pitch in the majors again, he’s a weapon that it will be hard to leave behind.

    I agree with nats128 on the disaster that was last year’s bullpen. That was on Rizzo, and a lot of us were uncomfortable going north with only one lefty (and not even a proven and reliable one at that). The great thing is Rizzo’s shown by his moves this offseason that he can learn from his mistakes. The motto on H-Rod should be “never again.” Never again go north with a bullpen that includes a question mark.

    I’m glad Williams thinks he has starters who can pitch deep into games. How true that is remains to be seen. Last year, we had two starters who could do that — Gio and JZnn. Gio has to be more efficient to do it regularly. This year, you can add Fister to that list. Hopefully Stras will become that kind of pitcher too. By deep, I mean 7 innings or more. I assume that’s what Williams means too.

    • nats128 - Feb 17, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      The Barves recipe for success has been getting the starters with a lead to the 7th inning and then turn it over to the bullpen and Game Over. This could be the year the Nats do the same!

      • Section 222 - Feb 17, 2014 at 10:39 PM

        True, but you can’t throw the same three guys out there in innings 7-9 night after night. That means you need one of three things (and hopefully more than one): (1) a bullpen with seven guys you can rely on in tight games; (2) starters who can make it through 7 or even 8 innings; (3) an offense that can score in bunches so not every game is close in the late innings.

  4. realdealnats - Feb 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    We are all shaping our opinions right now on some intuition in our head composed of these guys’ track records, their high points and low points at certain times in their careers, and our hopes for what might be sustained or returned to.

    Det may have a lights out camp making him #5, but if everyone continues pretty much true to previous form with good points and bad points and injury histories holding true to form, I still say:

    Stras, Gio, JZimm, Fister, Roark

    Soriano, Storen, Clip, Det, Stammen, Blevins, Garcia/Ohlendorf

    I believe Det and Stammen have shown the ability to pitch 3 stellar innings in relief if needed. And if Garcia goes down again, Ohlendorf could too.

    But Det in the BP gives us a power arm that’s left handed and I think very suited in time for set up man or closer. I like Stammen long and short. He’s been lights out doing both, and except a few times when he experienced a dead arm, he is consistently tough on batters. I think Storen will come around a littlel more this year, and I think Clips arm will hold out, basically, for yet another year. Soriano seems like a weak closer to me getting by on smoke and mirrors. I know his stats don’t always show that but it’s my feeling. With Blevins I’m taking the “show me” approach. Don’t have a tremendously good feeling about him being lights out in any way. Hope I’m wrong. Feels like a guy who sounds good in February on paper and we wonder when the real pitcher we thought we had is going to show up. So, irrationally, all the more reason for Det in the pen. Garcia I love but can he stay healthy?

    • therealjohnc - Feb 17, 2014 at 12:03 PM

      My concern is that Roark’s “previous form” before last year was at best mediocre, at worst borderline DFA material. Which Roark is the real one? The one from four months last year, of the one from the previous five years? He had WHIPS above 1.4 in AA and AAA the previous two years before last year, and had firmly pitched himself into the dreaded “organizational depth” category. He’s in the mix now because last year happened, and it was very encouraging. But don’t assume that he’s all that and a bag of chips any more than Da Meat Hook was going to be an all star player in 2008 and beyond because he had one great year in 2007.

      • dgourds - Feb 17, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        You could be right about Roark. But I believe what he did last year wasn’t a fluke. 50+ innings isn’t a huge sample, but it’s not tiny either. Plus he was very good in AAA before that. And he had 13/14 very strong appearances. Has Det ever come close to that kind of consistency? Pitchers sometimes figure it out. And it’s not like he doesn’t have good stuff. He consistently hit 94 on his sinker, commanded his curve and change, and showed such poise out there. IMO he was the brightest part of the lousy 2013 season. I believe in the dude!

  5. realdealnats - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    I know not just cynics but realists are in a wait and see with Roark. I side with dgourds on this but I’m sure he could slide back to old habits or something like that.

    But even if Roark does not have the same success in Spring Training as he did last year up with the Nats, Taylor Jordan could still be #5 and that would still allow Det to stay in the BP. And it’s not punishment, and I hope he would not see it as such. I actually hope Det throws himself into it and excels there this year and for years to come. I wouldn’t mind if he was #5 and that would give us another lefty starting but I’d just like him better as that power left handed arm in the BP.

    What are Solis’ + pitches?





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