PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals, whose bullpen earned unwanted attention for misadventures this week, agreed to terms with veteran right-hander Joe Nathan on a minor league deal. Nathan spent the spring in Nationals camp, but they released him when he seemed unlikely to make the Opening Day roster, hoping to give him ample opportunity to catch on elsewhere. When he didn’t, the Nationals brought him back, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Nationals bet on inexperience in their bullpen, trusting Sammy Solis, Blake Treinen, Enny Romero and Koda Glover to fill key roles. So far, all four have stumbled. The club already called up veteran right-hander Matt Albers from Class AAA Syracuse to fill innings and provide experience. Nathan, 42, could fill a similar role, providing the kind of organizational bullpen depth the Nationals have relied upon heavily in recent years.
Nathan has the second-most saves of any active pitcher, but has not made more than three appearances in the majors since 2014, before a second Tommy John surgery slowed his career. This spring, Nathan’s fastball sat around 91 and 92 mph, which Manager Dusty Baker called “plenty.” He pitched to a 3.86 ERA and allowed 18 base runners in 11 2/3 innings this spring.
Nathan joins a stockpile of veteran relievers hoping for the kind of opportunity Albers got Sunday, when the Nationals called on him to reinforce an exhausted bullpen. Veteran lefty Neal Cotts chose to stay in the organization, too. Combined, those three veterans have 33 years of major league experience.
Given his diminished stuff, and the fact that his elbow has now undergone two major surgeries, Nathan probably is not one of the first choices to join the Nationals’ bullpen in case of injury. But Baker praised his leadership abilities this spring, pointing out his potential influence on those inexperienced Nationals relievers. Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez and Joe Blanton are currently the most veteran members of the Nationals’ bullpen.
Sunday’s result: Nats come to life, then lose to Phillies in the ninth