In discussing the ways in which Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson had changed his thinking in Johnson's first year back managing in the majors in eleven years, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo pointed to Johnson's use of the bullpen, telling the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell last November, as quoted in an article entitled, "With Davey Johnson back, Nationals will be fun and fascinating", that the 69-year-old veteran of 13 seasons as a player and 15 as a skipper remains, "... an innovator,":
"He taught me a whole different way to think about relief pitching — the A and B bullpen," said Rizzo. "He said, ‘How can you have long winning streaks if you have to go to the same relievers every night? You have to have two bullpens — A and B — and trust them both.’ And he also wants a right-handed and left-handed long man — but not ‘mop-up men.’ He uses them in big spots."
The Nationals' GM referenced Johnson's preference for two pens during an appearance on ESPN 980's The Sports Fix with Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan when he announced the signing of 35-year-old veteran right-hander Brad Lidge, who's saved 223 games in his ten-year MLB career with the Astros and Phillies, posting a 3.44 career ERA, a 3.23 career FIP, 11.95 K/9 and 4.18 BB/9 over 592 appearance and 594.0 IP. "Drew Storen is our closer, Clip is our set-up guy, they're both All-Star caliber pitchers," Rizzo explained, "Brad is an All-Star caliber pitcher, and a veteran presence, so he's going to help us. And you know Davey [Johnson], Davey uses a bullpen, he's got his A, B bullpen and they're will be plenty of games for Brad to pitch in at the end of it and he knows his role and he's really going to grab this thing and be a mentor to our staff."
If healthy, Lidge at $1M dollars on a one-year deal is not a bad B-pen closer. Especially in a bullpen that already features Storen, Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and potentially Ross Detwiler depending on how the rotation sorts itself out this Spring. Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Chad Durbin, Rafael Martin, Atahualpo Severino, Ryan Perry and Yunesky Maya are also available should the need for extra arms arise, which it will at some point this season. Gone are Todd Coffey, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester. Cole Kimball, who's recovering from rotator cuff surgery may play a role later in the year if he's able to make a full recovery.
In an interview with Overtime's Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The FAN in D.C. Tuesday night, Nats' closer and '09 1st Round pick Drew Storen, who finished his second MLB season with 43 saves, a 2.75 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 20 walks (2.39 BB/9) and 74 K's (8.84 K/9) in 73 games and 75.1 IP, told the show's host that he's impressed with all the pitching Mike Rizzo and the Nats have assembled with the additions of Lidge, Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. "You look at the pitching staff as a whole, outside of those guys," Storen said, "Our entire bullpen is almost borderline overkill. That's what's kind of fun about it. In the National League pitching is so important, you see that with the Phillies and stuff like that, and I put our rotation and bullpen against anybody's in the league."
ESPN.com's Buster Olney ranked the Nationals' bullpen as the eighth best in baseball earlier this winter in an article entitled, "MLB's 10 best bullpens." The Nats' relievers had the fourth-lowest ERA in the NL in 2011 (3.20 ERA), the second-lowest BABIP (.274 BABIP), the fourth-lowest BAA (.230 BAA), the third-highest K total (464) and the third highest LOB% (77.0%), but they also had the third-highest total innings pitched by the bullpen, something that the additions of 200-inning arms like Gonzalez's and Jackson's were meant to address.
ESPN.com's Mr. Olney highlighted the work of Clippard, the 27-year-old right-hander, "... who had an 0.84 WHIP and held opponents to a .535 OPS," while posting the, "... lowest BABIP among relievers with at least 60 innings last season, at .187," and Mr Olney said Clippard and Storen were, "... good anchors for what should be a good bullpen."
There's always room for improvement of course. The Nats' closer told 106.7 the FAN's Danny Rouhier that personally, he's worked on his changeup all winter, "... and actually, I'm really happy with the amount of progress I've had with it. I started mixing it in late in the year [in 2011] and it's one of those things that, you throw that third pitch in there and hitters don't know what to expect. They're looking straight or something that slides and all of a sudden you get a little changeup and it doesn't even have to move a whole lot, the change in speed, and it just has a different plane to it, you get that in their head and then it kind of changes the game and all of a sudden it makes that slider a lot better."
With Storen + an improved change + Henry Rodriguez's 100 mph fastball and filthy bender + Tyler Clippard and his invisi-ball + Brad Lidge and his multiple sliders, the Nats figure to have one of the stronger bullpens in baseball to go along with the power arms in an improved rotation and the defense D.C. GM Mike Rizzo assembled behind them in what the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell described as the general manager's, "... laboratory study of the value of defense," and the importance of run prevention paired with the offense the general manager planned on fielding for the 2011 campaign. For the first time since the move to the nation's capital, the Nationals are heading into the 2012 campaign with expectations beyond escaping the basement. Will the improved-through-health-and-development-only-offense let them down?