Nats beef up bullpen, select Ramirez in Rule 5 draft

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. - The Washington Nationals selected right-handed pitcher Elvin Ramirez from the New York Mets' Class AA affiliate with their first pick in the Rule 5 draft, a potential coup for Washington, which gets a right-handed reliever who can regularly hit 98 mph - and sometimes reach 100 - with his fastball.

The Nationals lost only shortstop Michael Martinez from Class AAA Syracuse, whom the Philadelphia Phillies took with the final pick in the first round. The Nationals took Brian Broderick, another right-handed pitcher, from the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round.

Based on the parameters of the Rule 5 draft, if the Nationals don't carry Broderick and Ramirez on their 25-man roster for the entire season, the pitchers will return to their original team.

The player with the best chance to stick is Ramirez, a 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Though he has struggled with control issues, his recent improvement and raw potential led some to believe he would be the first pick in the Rule 5 draft once the Mets chose not to protect him.

"If he throws enough strikes," General Manager Mike Rizzo said, "his stuff is as good as anybody's we've got."

In scouting Ramirez this winter, the Nationals became convinced he has begun to correct his control struggles. In 80 innings pitched last year at Class A and AA, Ramirez had a 4.16 ERA with 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but also 5.5 walks per nine innings.

The Nationals sent three scouts to watch Ramirez this winter in the Dominican, where he is playing for Gigantes and pitching coach Franklin Bravo, who served as pitching coach for short-season Class A Vermont last season. In 202/3 innings with Gigantes, Ramirez has walked just four batters while striking out 26, compiling a 2.18 ERA.

"He's finally figuring out the strike zone," Rizzo said. "The latter portion of the minor league season and this winter, he's taken it to a different level. He's a big, power guy we hope helps us in the bullpen this year."

At Class AA last season, Broderick, 24, posted a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts and two relief appearances. Broderick walked only 14 batters in 1002/3 innings while relying on groundballs; he's a sinkerballer who throws in the high 80s and low 90s. The Nationals have a crowded competition for the back end of their rotation even without yet adding any starting pitching this offseason, but Rizzo said Broderick will compete.

In the minor league portion of the draft, the Nationals took right-handed pitcher Michael Allen from the Minnesota Twins' Class AA roster.

Lee appears unlikely

Rizzo said the Nationals are "still discussing" left-hander Cliff Lee, the pitching prize of the offseason. But with the New York Yankees stepping up their offer to seven years, according to multiple reports, the Nationals appear to be falling out of the Lee sweepstakes. Earlier this week, a team source said the Nationals would offer Lee, 32, a seven-year contract, "if hell freezes over." Unless the Yankees' press for Lee changes the team's mind-set regarding Lee, it's hard to see him landing in Washington.

The Nationals remain in the mix for right-handed free agent starting pitcher Carl Pavano, but they are reluctant to offer Pavano, who turns 35 in January, multiple years in a contract, according to a Nationals source. The Milwaukee Brewers and Twins also have interest. Pavano is the clear-cut second-best option after Lee.

Harris could return

The Nationals also need to make upgrades to their bench. Rizzo said he's looking for players who can play multiple positions and provide power as pinch hitters. "You always want in the bench some versatility," Rizzo said. "It gives your manager different ways to go. We'd like a good, veteran presence on the bench. . . . A guy with some power off the bench is something that intrigues me."

Rizzo said the Nationals will consider re-signing utility man Willie Harris, who is a free agent this offseason. He envisioned Michael Morse as having "a more important role than one at-bat off the bench." . . .

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed former Nationals left-handed starting pitcher Scott Olsen to a one-year contract with a team option for a second. Olsen struggled with injuries last season following his 2009 shoulder surgery, and he voiced displeasure once the Nationals moved him to the bullpen late in the year. The Nationals released Olsen shortly after the season.

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