Matt Williams has been talking about the ideal bullpen makeup since he took over on the bench in the nation's capital. It's an important consideration for a Washington Nationals team that ended up with issues defining roles in the 'pen last summer when the mix wasn't right at the start of the season. Williams, who is embarking on his first season as a major league manager, told reporters at the Winter Meetings in December that ideally a skipper would like two left-handers in the bullpen.
"I personally like a lefty specialist, if you will," Williams explained, "that can come in and ‑‑ for that two‑out situation and get them out. I also like a guy that can do that, that we can stretch to another inning. As an example you've got a lefty in that fifth inning or whatever it is, or sixth inning, and then you've got left, right, left following. And he can go back out."
The Nationals acquired a left-hander who fits that second description when they traded for Jerry Blevins. If the Nats are going to keep a second lefty in the bullpen, the leading candidate for that role is likely Xavier Cedeno as Spring Training begins.
When Williams spoke to reporters about the makeup of his bullpen again in late January, he stressed that a lot depends on the arms a manager has available.
"I think you have to say, like last year, [GM] Mike [Rizzo] said, 'Yeah, well we'd love to have a lefty, but our options may be not as good as all the righties at that point,'" Williams said. "Every manager would love to have two lefties. We'll have to see how it works in Spring Training. What we can accomplish."
On Day Two of workouts at the Nationals' Spring Training facilities in Viera, Florida, Williams was asked once again about his preference for having two left-handed relievers on the roster. "It's ideal to have a lefty whenever you need him," Williams said. "So, again, we'll look at it and see what our best club is, but ideally, everybody I think would like to have two lefties that they can manuever in and out of the game. So, we'll see how it goes."
The Nationals' manager said he was happy to have options this Spring with plenty of pitchers who could fill roles in the rotation, where one spot is available, or the bullpen, where the competition is just a fierce. "There [are] multiple guys that could handle that role," Williams told reporters. "There [are] multiple guys that could start. That's a good thing. It's a good thing to have depth, certainly, and it does create good competition in Spring. That's healthy."
The selection process for reliever might be difficult, and there aren't too many spots available considering the makeup of the Nationals' relief staff hasn't changed that much since last season. As for how the Nats will go about making the tough decisions?
"Of course, we think about guys that have certainly shown that they could handle it in the past," Williams explained. "Without naming names, we can understand who those guys are, but it's about who pitches well and how we do the roster at the end of Spring Training. What's going to be best for us? And all of those things come into play. At this point, that's an unknown, but depth is good and we have some lightning arms in our pitching staff and that's a good thing."
Davey Johnson, in his two-plus years on the bench, preferred to have what he called "A" and "B" bullpens, with two long relievers (left and right-handers) and another lefty specialist, set-up man, closer, backup closer, etc. Williams said yesterday he doesn't necessarily have a rigid construction in mind, and the starters the Nationals have assembled could factor into the manager's thinking.
"I think what we have are starting pitchers that can go deep into games," he said. "So, that being said, you need a long guy, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a righty or a lefty, or both. I think it matters how we construct our staff and how we go about our business, so we'll see how it goes, but right now, we need a long guy, certainly somebody that can throw multiple innings if we get in a jam, but he doesn't have to be right-handed, he doesn't have to left-handed, we don't have to have two of them, because we do have starters that can go deep into the game."