James Wagner, the Washington Post beat reporter for the Washington Nationals, wrote an article this morning titled, “What the Nationals bullpen may look like on Opening Day.”
Wagner explained how the only competition for a position in the bullpen going into spring training was between Blake Treinen and Aaron Barrett.
That perspective changed over the weekend, Wagner posited, when it was announced that Casey Jansen, the presumed eighth inning pitcher, underwent an MRI on his shoulder after he had trouble getting loose. The results of the MRI revealed rotator cuff tendonitis which Jansen shrugged off as not “a major concern.” Jansen said he could, “hopefully get back to throwing again soon,” but realistically he will have to rest his shoulder before easing into a pitching routine. Treinen and Barrett will likely both break camp with the Nationals.
The look of the bullpen changed again Monday afternoon when it was announced that the Nationals traded left handed pitcher Jerry Blevins to the New York Mets in exchange for Matt den Dekker—a much needed outfielder (some writers had first baseman Tyler Moore as an Opening Day starter).
Blevins will remembered for his strong September where he posted a 3.00 ERA and his perfect October which was punctuated by a base loaded strikeout of San Francisco Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt. His departure leaves a vacuum in the bullpen that Manager Matt Williams will want to fill with another left handed pitcher.
Xavier Cedeno, who has pitched with the Nationals in just 20 regular season games, over the last two years is an option. He throws an effective slider, but he has had mixed success in his spring training outings. In 9.0 innings of work he has 9 strikeouts, 7 walks, 7 hits and 5 earned runs.
The Nationals could also enlist the help of left handed pitcher Matt Grace. Grace pitched in AA and AAA appearances last season. Grace has been given many opportunities to pitch this spring. He has not given up a hit in 7.2 innings pitched.
The Nationals bullpen was dealt another blow this afternoon when closer Drew Storen, who has made just three spring training appearances because of a broken hamate bone in his non-pitching hand, exited today’s game against the Cardinals. Storen recorded two outs and surrendered a walk on 21 pitches in the bottom of the sixth when the training staff pulled him from the game after he tore a blister in his right big toe which he uses to push off the mound.
Storen’s exit and the healing process will put his chance of pitching in consecutive games in jeopardy before the regular season in jeopardy. Williams suggested that Storen will make his first consecutive starts during the regular season if necessary.
Storen will, in all likelihood, be ready if he is needed on Opening Day when the Nationals host the New York Mets, but who would be next on the depth chart?
Another option that the Nationals skipper has is left handed pitcher Rafael Martin. Martin, 30, is a non-roster invitee. He has never pitched in the majors, but he had a very successful 2014 season in his appearances in A, AA and AAA competition. Martin surrendered just 9 runs in 38 appearances and posted a 0.81 WHIP in his seasons with the three minor league teams. Wagner recently profiled Martin’s slider which spins at an attention grabbing 3,000 RPM. For comparisons sake, Wagner compares it to the curve ball that starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws which spins at 2,800 RPM. Martin pitched 1.0 inning today and struck out St. Louis Cardinals major leaguers Kolten Wong and Pete Kozma. He also got Stephen Piscotti to harmlessly ground out to end the inning.
The answer to Wagner’s question of who will pitch is bound to change again.
We will have an answer in just a week.