In Thursday’s newspaper, we describe the composition of the Nationals bullpen and focus mainly on Henry Rodriguez, one of the few unknowns on the team. He has unbelievable ability accompanied head-scratching wildness. He is out of minor leagues options and the Nationals, who believe a now healthy elbow will help his cause this season, don’t want to lose him.
Since the winter, Manager Davey Johnson has openly admitted to desiring a second left-handed reliever. Barring any further injuries, that seems a remote possibility. Johnson even said as much this week, saying the addition of right-handed closer Rafael Soriano set the roster’s shape. The Nationals re-signed Zach Duke as the lone left-hander, but also fell short on signing others — Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Gonzalez, Sean Burnett and J.P. Howell, to name a few.
The Nationals also inked lefties Bill Bray and Fernando Abad to minor league deals; Bray as the only one with a legitimate shot to make the roster. Early in camp, it appeared there would be a competition between Bray and Henry Rodriguez for the final spot in the bullpen. Christian Garcia also had a chance, too, as the Nationals hoped to stretch him out as a starter but hadn’t closed the door on relieving.
Time, however, has sorted that all out.
“[When camp started I felt] unless there’s some injuries or some people that weren’t going to be ready for opening day, there weren’t going to be a lot of spots open to compete for,” Johnson said. “I still feel the same way today.”
Garcia’s forearm injury has improved but he still hasn’t thrown in nearly a month, making his chances of being available for opening day a slim possibility. Bray struggled to change the mechanics that were altered when he hurt his groin, and back, last season. The Nationals, who are still high on him and had hoped he would could serve as key role, sent him down to minor league camp and have until his opt-out date in June to determine his future with the team. Abad has impressed team officials with his potential but he is headed to the minor leagues.
All of these factors, plus a healthy Rodriguez out of options, created a spot for the flame-throwing right-hander. (This could change with injuries, as the regular season is still three weeks away, but this is the Nationals’ thinking so far.) Abad, Garcia and Bray will serve as valuable depth in the future.
“I’m comfortable with the guys I have out there,” Johnson said. “When you have four guys that have closed, obviously they’re pretty comfortable against left-handers. It’s not a big issue.”
Based on the way Johnson operates his bullpens, he wasn’t a believer in left-handed specialists; he preferred left-handers who could handle an entire inning. Last season, he would rest Gorzelanny, Burnett and Gonzalez before facing a series against the left-handed heavy lineups of Philadelphia and Atlanta.
With changes to the Braves’ roster, for example, that many left-handers isn’t as necessary. So now, the work rests on Johnson and the Nationals scouting department to determine the best matchups for the Nationals’ right-handed dominant bullpen, with Ryan Mattheus and Tyler Clippard as particularly effective against left-handed hitters.
“When you have right-handers that are talented, I’ll still be doing homework on what I think is the best option, whether it’s hard or soft or whatever, and resting certain guys who are probably more successful against some teams and creating matchups that way,” Johnson said. “You manage according to the talent you have.”
Said Craig Stammen:”A lot of us in the bullpen that are good at facing lefties used to be starters, so it didn’t matter if it was a lefty or righty, you have to figure out a way to get them out. So I think that’s definitely going to help us personally. For me personally, having to pitch two innings or more sometimes, I wasn’t really matching up with anybody. I wasn’t really matching up with anybody. I was matching up against their whole lineup.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
After Wednesday’s split squad action, the Nationals are back to a regular spring game against the Houston Astros in Viera,Fla. Chris Young is on the mound for his second start of the spring, and Rafael Soriano, Zach Duke, Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard and Fernando Abad are slated to follow. No lineups have been posted yet.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY