“The one thing I will guarantee you guys and the fan base is that this will not affect team morale,” Rizzo said Wednesday during an interview with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 the Fan. “I can guarantee that. Dusty Baker, Mike Rizzo will not allow it to affect team morale. Jayson Werth, Max Scherzer and that leadership group in the clubhouse will not allow it. This is an experienced big league team with great players and great stars on it. There’s absolutely no finger-pointing. We’re all Washington Nationals. This is a family down there in the clubhouse, it’s a team, and there’s no one part of this roster that is going to get finger-pointed or talked about in a negative manner.”
Rizzo’s comments came one day after my colleague Barry Svrluga reported on the tension in the Nationals’ clubhouse stemming from the manner in which management constructed the bullpen during the offseason and the unit’s ineffectiveness.
“It’s tough for everybody on the roster,” Rizzo said Wednesday, when asked about the frustration Bryce Harper showed after making the final out of Monday’s loss, a game the Nationals led 9-6 entering the eighth inning. “It really is. It’s the same way where the bullpen doesn’t point fingers when you miss a flyball in the outfield that costs the game, or you strike out with the bases loaded and you don’t win the game. Like football, you have the offense, defense, special teams. This roster’s cut up into different spots — rotation, bullpen, regulars and bench. These guys are all on the same page. I tell you, guys like [Ryan Zimmerman] and Werth and Scherzer, they’re not going to let that happen. They’ve been through it too often.”
Rizzo acknowledged that the bullpen’s struggles were “not unexpected” given the team’s inability to replace last year’s closer, trade deadline acquisition Mark Melancon, in free agency.
“We saw this coming into the season,” he said. “We tried to make some moves in the offseason. We tried to acquire some of the elite closers, we didn’t get them, and so now we have to keep looking, keep fighting and keep grinding.”
Rizzo also downplayed the idea that the Lerner family has been an impediment to acquiring bullpen help.
“All the media hype about ownership not allowing us to do things, this roster, this organization is constructed by me,” Rizzo said. “Everything lays at my front door and we’re working on it. It’s a difficult thing to do is to improve yourself during the season, especially when you’re one of the lead dogs. When you’re leading, nobody wants to help you. Everybody wants to hurt you and take from you and that’s just the way this game is, and that’s what I love about it.”
The Nationals called up pitcher Trevor Gott from Class AAA Syracuse on Monday and put him in the bullpen. On Tuesday, they promoted pitcher Erick Fedde to Syracuse. Don’t count on seeing any of the nine college pitchers the Nationals selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft this week in the Nationals’ major league bullpen later this summer.
“No, not whatsoever,” Rizzo said when asked if he could envision a scenario where that would happen. “We drafted these guys to project them, to develop them, to help them be impact players in the big leagues down the road. It’s never happened as [long as] I’ve been in the front office [that we’ve] drafted a player and [he’s] gotten to the big leagues the year we did that. Like I said, there’s absolutely no reason for us to panic. This bullpen is going to solidify itself, either by our current players pitching like they’re supposed to pitch, going inward and pulling somebody from our minor league system or going externally in a trade situation to help our bullpen.”