USA TODAY Sports
Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that the decision to keep just one left-hander in the Nats' bullpen in 2013 was essentially made the moment the team signed free agent closer Rafael Soriano this winter.
In separate interviews on MLB Network Radio this weekend, both Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo addressed the composition of the 2013 Nats' bullpen. Would the Nationals keep a second left-hander in the pen? Bill Bray, considered one of the top candidates for the role when Spring Training began, was sent to minor league camp in the first round of cuts so that he could work on finding his arm slot after altering his delivery while dealing with injuries the last few years. Fernando Abad is still hanging on, but is he better than the right-handers the Nationals already have on their roster?
"We're a little different bullpen this year," the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said this weekend, "We were a little more balanced in the bullpen last year." Gone are left-handers Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Mike Gonzalez, but as the Nationals' Manager and General Manager have stressed throughout the Hot Stove season and the start of Spring Training, and as Johnson reiterated on MLB Network Radio, the Nats believe their, "... right-handers are very capable right-handers and they've had success against both right and [left-handed hitters.]"
Veteran left-hander Zach Duke will fill the role Tom Gorzelanny played in 2012, as the long man in Johnson's pen, but other than Duke, the pen is decidedly right-hand heavy with Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and... Christian Garcia, Henry Rodriguez most likely?
"We're a little short on left-handers this year," Davey Johnson told MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette. In discussing the decision to send Bray, Will Ohman and Brandon Mann (all left-handers) to minor league camp last week, leaving Abad as the last possibility for a two-lefty bullpen, Johnson did tell reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, "'... it’s no secret I would prefer to have a little more [left-handed] presence in our bullpen,'" but as he explained to reporters today before Washington's Grapefruit League game with the New York Mets, the moment the Nationals signed Soriano this winter, the decision on the makeup of the bullpen was effectively made.
"If you look at the guys that were successful up here last year," Johnson explained, "and with the addition of Soriano, the addition of a right-handed, closer-type, really, and with the loss of some other left-handers that were here last year, it kind of boils down to, you know, just down to one left-hander in the pen. I think that's kind of obvious. It was obvious from the day we signed Soriano. And I'm comfortable with the guys that we had out there. I mean, when you have four guys that have closed, obviously they're pretty comfortable against left-handers, so, that's not a big issue."
"Every club that you manage," the Nats' skipper continued, "is always different. The talent that you have, because you don't always manage every club the same way. You have the different talent... It's pretty easy in the past, when you know you're coming into a series with a club that's predominantly a left-hand hitting club, if you paid any attention over the last few years you see that I kind of rested some of my left-handers going into that series and worked the left-handers harder that series than the right side of the bullpen."
Some of the late-game decisions he's had to make in the past to get matchups that were favorable for the Nationals will be eliminated, but Johnson said he'll be prepared to make decisions based on the roster he starts the season with next month. "I'll still be doing homework on what I think is the best option," Johnson said, "Whether it's hard or soft or whatever," but the decisions will be based on what pitchers are rested and which match up better in the particular situations that present themselves. "It's just, you manage according to the talent you have," Johnson said.
And judging by what the Nationals' GM said in his interview with the MLB Network's Mr.'s Ferrin and Jim Duquette this weekend, and by what Johnson said today, the Nats' manager is most likely going to have a pen with just one left-hander. "I certainly would rather have a shutdown right-handed reliever than a mediocre left-handed reliever in my bullpen even if it's left on left," Rizzo told the show's hosts. The Nationals would, as always, be open to any possibilities, but as Rizzo put it, it would have to be a special reliever for the team to make a move, and, "... it would have to be a long-term-type of guy that we would control. It wouldn't be a guy that we would rent for a year and give up anything of substance for him."