Nationals Top 5 Offseason Storylines: Nats' 2014 Bullpen?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Davey Johnson talked all season about not being comfortable with the Washington Nationals' bullpen. The Nats looked for a second lefty at the start of the year, will they try to add another for the 2014 pen? Will they bring back Xavier Cedeno, Fernando Abad or Ian Krol? How will the Nats' pen change?

Left-handed relievers Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny left the Washington Nationals after the 2012 campaign. Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo decided to move left-hander Zach Duke to the long relief role Gorzelanny filled and the Nats added options like Bill Bray and Fernando Abad via free agency and later picked Xavier Cedeno up off the waiver wire. He also signed right-handed closer Rafael Soriano to a 2-year/$28M deal, bolstering the back end of the 'pen. Rizzo said before the season he still wanted to add another reliever though, telling reporters including the Washington Post's James Wagner last winter they were still in the market:

"'We’d like to get a second left-hander,' Rizzo said, 'It’s not a necessity because our right-handed relievers get out left-handers well, but in a perfect world we’d like to get a second.'"

Though they were rumored to have pursued left-handed options (like J.P. Howell) this winter, the Nationals started the defense of their 2012 NL East crown with Duke as the only lefty in the bullpen. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson had trouble adjusting to the rebuilt 'pen and finding roles for the relievers he had when they struggled at the start of the season.

"Our guys in the pen," Johnson told reporters in April, "their command hasn't been as good as the starters. Last year we really attacked hitters and this year we're throwing more pitches than normal. With the different makeup in the bullpen, with more guys that have closed, I haven't really [gotten] in a good rotation for the bullpen and that usually takes a couple weeks going into the season, and it's a combination of what the starters give you and the workload each guy has coming out of the pen."

"With the different makeup in the bullpen, with more guys that have closed, I haven't really [gotten] in a good rotation for the bullpen..." - Davey Johnson on bullpen in April

Johnson liked to use A and B bullpens, he'd explained before, but he was having trouble finding the right mix. "[I] haven't really been able to do that," he said, "I'm not as comfortable with how that's shaking out right now."

Fernando Abad came up in late May. The Nationals shook the bullpen up in early June, DFA'ing Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke and bringing 22-year-old lefty Ian Krol up from Double-A Harrisburg. Johnson was a lot happier with the bullpen mix toward the end of the season once he had the options he wanted and the Nationals started making a run at a second straight postseason appearance. "That's one of the things that I think has hurt us this year," Johnson said, "not having a strong left side of the bullpen."

Johnson talked about the bullpen again at the end of the season as one of the reasons the Nationals fell short of their goal of returning to the postseason and competing for a World Series championship as many, including the manager himself, had predicted. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters this past weekend that though he thought his "core" relievers were set, the bullpen was one thing Washington would seek to improve this winter.

Did Ryan Mattheus (6.37 ERA, 3.82 BB/9, fractured hand punching locker) pitch his way out of a spot in the bullpen after a strong 2012 campaign? Can Ian Krol recapture the form and get the results he had in Double-A and when he first game up? Will Fernando Abad and Xavier Cedeno, both free agents, be back in 2014? Can Tanner Roark, if he doesn't start, or Ross Ohlendorf if he's back, fill in and pitch in middle relief? Is there a role for Erik Davis (3.10 ERA, 9.29 K/9 in 52 1/3 IP at Triple-A)? Is the left-hander the Nats were after this past winter out there this year? Are Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano locked in as part of the 2014 pen?

The Nationals' GM will be putting together a bullpen for a different manager next season.

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