VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals will have good news to discuss regarding their bullpen on Monday. The MRI exam on Casey Janssen’s sore right shoulder showed he is battling soreness — a rite of spring — and will need treatment and rest, said a person familiar with the situation. More to come on this later. But still, the Nationals will have to adjust. Janssen may not be ready to start the season in a week.
Entering spring training, there appeared to be only one spot in the seven-man bullpen up for grabs, and Aaron Barrett looked poised to nab it. It’s not that Barrett hasn’t pitched well this spring — he has a 2.00 ERA — but Blake Treinen has been terrific over the past three weeks. He hasn’t allowed an earned run — only two unearned runs — in 8 1/3 innings. His high-90s sinker has been good, and scouts say his offspeed pitches have improved.
“He’s got power stuff,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He throws it over the plate and doesn’t have any fear. He projects well as a reliever and as a starting pitcher. He’s shown he can do both at the major league level. That’s every important for us. It gives us great versatility at both positions.”
In light of Janssen’s injury, the Nationals could begin the season with both Barrett and Treinen in the bullpen, along with Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Tanner Roark, Matt Thornton and Jerry Blevins. Stammen (7.59 ERA), Roark (9.53 ERA) and Blevins (9.00 ERA) have had rough springs but the sample sizes are small and spring training isn’t only about results. Roark said he is having no issue re-adjusting to the pitching in relief after starting last season. The Nationals sound unconcerned about the results so far.
“He’s struggling with his fastball command this spring training,” Rizzo said. “That’s why you have spring training.”
The Nationals haven’t defined a role for Roark yet, but he’s been used in different relief situations this spring, from one inning to multiple innings to taking over mid-inning with runners on base. They may end up using Roark like that during the season or perhaps simply as a long reliever. Stammen, normally the Nationals’ long reliever, has been pitching mostly one-inning stints lately.
“I like getting used to the fact that I need to get different situations and stuff like that,” Roark said. “It’s just, the process should be fine-tuned by now. You make a good pitch and they hit it. It happens. Nothing you can do about it. Just keep going.”
“It’s about getting a little more comfortable and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve just got to throw the ball instead of working into it,'” pitching coach Steve McCatty added.
The same applies to Stammen and Blevins. Both have track records and a few weeks of tinkering with mechanics wouldn’t cancel that out. Blevins and Xavier Cedeno (3.38 ERA) have drawn interest from other teams looking for left-handed relievers, but it’s be hard to see another team wanting to take on Blevins’ $2.4 million salary. If a team waits, they could perhaps nab Cedeno, who is out of options, at league minimum salary and has less of a track record.
Manager Matt Williams, who is aiming to keep two left-handed relievers, said a player’s contract situation wouldn’t affect the decisions on the bullpen. “We want our 25 best guys on the team because ultimately from opening day beyond that we’re paid to be a good club and win games,” he said. But in reality, contract situation does play a factor. Roark, Barrett and Treinen could provide flexibility because all have minor league options.
“Of course you take that into consideration,” Williams said. “However, we have to look to opening day and to look two months beyond that is something we don’t do. We look to opening day, Game 1. And then when that one’s over we look to Game 2 and make adjustments accordingly. But right we’re looking toward making sure we have the best 25 guys Game 1 and see where we go from there.”
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IN THE JOURNAL
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“We are never out of the fight.”
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