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Reliever Greg Holland agrees to minor league deal to return to Nationals

Greg Holland joins the Nationals on a minor league deal for the second consecutive August. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

The Washington Nationals agreed to a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Greg Holland, pending a physical, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. Holland was on his way to Washington on Monday night, and he is expected to sign if he is cleared by team doctors.

Holland, 33, was recently designated for assignment and then released by the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is the second time in as many summers that the Nationals are bringing in Holland as a reclamation project: He was designated by the St. Louis Cardinals in July 2018, after his ERA spiked to 7.92, and he was pitching for Washington by early August. He finished the season with a 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances for the Nationals, and he was on the team’s radar to return this past offseason.

But the Nationals and Holland couldn’t reach a deal then — leading him to the Diamondbacks on a one-year contract worth $3.5 million — and he lost Arizona’s closer role before he was designated for assignment Wednesday and released Sunday.

Now Washington is hoping for another sharp turnaround.

In Arizona, the righty had not reached the depths he had sunk to with St. Louis in 2018. He had a 4.54 ERA in 40 appearances to go with a high strikeout rate, but he battled control issues all season. His 6.1 walks per nine innings are just below the career high (6.2) he set last year. His average fastball velocity is also down to 91.6 mph, according to FanGraphs; Holland was throwing between 93 and 95 mph in the past few seasons. Wavering command and diminished stuff are often a fateful mix for aging relievers.

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But that the Nationals were able to fix Holland once — and make him an integral part of the bullpen last September — was enough to take another flier. Holland will cost Washington next to nothing if he doesn’t earn his way to the majors. And if he does, and then contributes to the Nationals’ pennant chase, the small investment would be worth it. The message was that there is no harm in trying.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has spent all season cycling veteran arms through the bullpen. Every deal has been without a guarantee, and the risks were outweighed by the potential reward. Javy Guerra and Fernando Rodney have stuck in the bullpen, even after Guerra was designated for assignment at the trade deadline. Jonny Venters was around until he landed on the 60-day injured list. Lefty Dan Jennings didn’t fit and was gone almost as soon as he arrived. The same went for Brad Boxberger, a former all-star who never made it out of the minors.

If Holland is similar to Rodney — usable in high-leverage situations — the Nationals will have lucked out. If he is like Guerra — usable in middle relief — it still may be the right move when rosters expand to 40 players in September. And if he flops, the attempt will have come at little cost.

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