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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Team looking to bolster bullpen

Already trying to fill a hole at first base and add starting rotation depth, the Nationals are also looking for a closer, according to a league source.

The Nationals had one of the strongest bullpens in baseball last year, and while they possess several candidates to close, none of their relievers have significant experience pitching in the ninth inning. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett could all be candidates, but they have nine career saves combined.

After the Nationals traded Matt Capps to the Minnesota Twins last year for catching prospect Wilson Ramos, Storen, the 10th pick of the 2009 draft, handled the majority of save situations. He saved five games in seven opportunities with a 3.58 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 551/3 total innings.

Adding a closer would have a potential side benefit. The Nationals could add a veteran closer and then trade him midseason as a way to ease Storen into the role they envisioned for him when the drafted him. The Nationals struck gold last year by signing Capps for $3.5 million, then flipping him for Ramos, 23, who likely will begin the season in a platoon behind home plate.

First base and Willingham

The Nationals have yet to make a final decision on the course of action for filling their first base position, and whatever solution they arrive at could dictate the future of left fielder Josh Willingham.

The Nationals' most likely solution to replacing Adam Dunn remains signing either Carlos Pea or Adam LaRoche, both of whom are free agents. In that case, the Nationals would add a sufficient home run threat and feel free to trade Willingham, who has drawn considerable interest.

Again, the belief in baseball is that Willingham will most likely be traded. But if the Nationals don't end up finding a match, it could affect their outlook at first base. The Nationals, one team source said, have internally discussed using Michael Morse and a lesser left-handed free agent first baseman in a platoon at first base. This approach would also free up more money to dedicate toward help in the starting rotation or the bullpen.

Bryce Harper update

First overall pick Bryce Harper will begin spring training in major league camp, Manager Jim Riggleman said, a starting point that owes to his spot on the Nationals' 40-man roster. . . .

Riggleman said Nyjer Morgan will be the clear-cut center fielder heading in spring training, meaning he will not have to compete with Roger Bernadina.

- Adam Kilgore


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