Nats Spring Training Preview: Relief Pitching

The countdown to Spring Training continues, as pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Florida on Thursday. The full squad reports on Tuesday the 18th, with the season opening series in Australia on March 22nd.

The Nationals Opening Day roster is fairly set, with very little wiggle room. Washington is expected to carry eleven pitchers out of Florida and at least nine of them appear spoken for. We addressed the starting rotation last week and pointed out that Major League clubs usually go with a four-man rotation in April due to a less taxing schedule. The first four starters in the Nats rotation are as established as any club in the game.

Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister will get the ball every turn and if all goes well, will be major innings eaters for new Manager Matt Williams. In our preview of starting pitching, we looked at the “Big Four” as well as four candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Rotation Candidates (1)
Only one spot in rotation is open, others will compete for the two spots in middle/long relief.
Ross Detwiler
Tanner Roark
Taylor Jordan
Nathan Karns

Middle/Long (2)
Huge battle ends here, with Roark & Jordan likely fighting with the three vets for only two spots.
Ross Ohlendorf- Nats avoided arbitration by rewarding him for a fine year. It wasn’t minor league $.
Craig Stammen- Every team needs a “Stammen” in their bullpen. Versatile and effective in all roles.
Ryan Mattheus- After great ’11 & ’12 seasons,’13 was bad, so bad he broke his hand punching a locker.

Specialist (1)
Nats took a major step back here a year ago, the hope is Blevins solves it, once and for all.
Jerry Blevins- After last seasons “fail”, the Nats can now turn to the 6’6″ Blevins vs. lefties.
Xavier Cedeno- LHP candidate until Bleins deal. I liked Ian Kroll, but Fister deal was a steal.

Setup/Short (2)
Sure is a luxury to have three closers, four if you count Barrett who delivered in AA in ’13.
Tyler Clippard- Adept as a setup man in ’11 & ’13, an All-Star closer in between. Elite changeup.
Drew Storen- Predictably, a meltdown followed the NLDS debacle. Finished strong after AAA stint.
Aaron Barrett- Barrett was outstanding at Harrisburg last season. Capable, but victim of numbers.

Closer (1)
Soriano may have lost a bit of stuff in the first of a two year deal. Unlikely to return in 2015.
Rafael Soriano- Despite 43 saves, was trending in wrong direction in base runners and strikeouts.

Giolito is next “Ace” in the farm system, while Cole & Solis are future members of rotation.
Lucas Giolito- Flamethrower was 1st round pick, coming off Tommy John surgery, sound familiar?
A.J. Cole- Key to deal getting Gio in trade, they missed him so much, they traded for him back.
Sammy Solis- Top lefty prospect, also coming off Tommy John. Sleeper candidate for LH out of pen.

Who ultimately captures the final roster spots will likely be determined by the selection of the fifth starter. With the fifth starter not needed for the first month of the season, sort of complicates things. Bottom line, the eleven members of the staff that start the season, may not be the same once the club settles into the full five man rotation.

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Cover photo Bryce Harper Twitter