There are a number of reasons why the opportunities were there in the ninth inning of the last two games of the 2015 campaign. Jonathan Papelbon was [ahem] unavailable. Drew Storen was [ahem] unavailable. So Felipe Rivero, 24, got the ball in the eighth, for a two-inning save in the series finale with the Atlanta Braves last week, and in the ninth in the first of two games the Washington Nationals played with the New York Mets last Saturday.
The sort-of-out-nowhere starter-turned reliever finished the 2015 campaign with a 2.79 ERA, a 2.64 FIP, 11 walks (2.05 BB/9), 43 Ks (8.01 K/9) and a .198/.249/.295 line against over 48 ⅓ innings in his first major league season.
Rivero held the 91 left-handed hitters he faced to a .198/.242/.244 line and the 98 right-handers to a similarly paltry .198/.255/.344 line.
But the opportunity to close out the last two games? Is that a sign of the Nationals' plans for Rivero in the future?
"It depends on how he progresses," now-former Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters who asked if he profiled as a future closer after Rivero retired all six batters he faced in the two-inning outing against the Mets.
Rivero struck out two of the six batters, completing two scoreless and hitless on 23 pitches with a fastball that averaged 94.8 and got up to 97.7 and his changeup (86.6 mph to 87.4).
"His stuff profiles in any innings," Williams said.
"Again, he's new to this, so first year out he's done pretty well and tonight's an example of what he can do. He can work through righties and lefties and go multiple innings if needed. So we'll see what the future holds."
Rivero's last outing of the year came in an 11-pitch, three-strikeout, 1-2-3 frame in New York's Citi Field which saw the southpaw throw just 11 pitches, nine of them fastballs (95.5 mph AVG, up to 97.7) and two changeups (86.7).
He didn't throw his slider at all in those final two outings, but on the year, it was a weapon he threw 19% of the time, and on which hitters had just a .184 AVG.
"Throwing strikes," Williams said when asked about the keys to Rivero's success.
"He's got a good fastball. The last pitch was a changeup, threw a couple of good ones. One to [Travis] d'Arnaud on an 0-1 count and the last one to strike [Ruben] Tejada out. He's feeling good. He's strong. He's got control of all his pitches. That's why he's in that position right now."
And second lol pic.twitter.com/Ycj6IFEqD1— Felipe Rivero (@Rivero43) October 3, 2015
"We think back to the inception of this," Williams said, referring to Rivero's transition from starting to relieving, "to his first day, not really coming out of the bullpen and thrust into it and he's done a great job and he will continue to do so.
"Couple innings the other night for the save and one today, just continues to go out there and throw strikes and help us win."
What role will Rivero play in 2016? What will the Nationals do with Papelbon? How will the Nationals bolster the bullpen after it was clearly an issue in 2015? We'll have plenty of time to talk relievers this winter...
How about some new Nats' manager chatter for now?:
Bud Black on the #Nationals Managerial opening: "Very attractive position, very good team, great city; that's a good one"— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) October 7, 2015
• "He was concise when asked for his opinion on the Nationals’ job opening, but clear. 'Very attractive position,' he said. 'Very good team. A great city. That’s a good one.'" - "Bud Black Calls Nats Managerial Opening ‘Very Attractive’" - Chris Lingebach, CBS DC
Bud Black, a potential candidate for the Nats managerial opening, calls the job "very attractive." http://t.co/fyUNsMGbys— Chris Lingebach (@ChrisLingebach) October 7, 2015
• "The Nationals pride themselves on pitching, which has been the backbone of their winning teams. So Black, a former 15-year major league starter and later a pitching coach, would be appealing." - "Bud Black, Rick Renteria are two more potential Nationals managerial options" - Chelsea Janes, The Washington Post
• "Former Mets general manager Steve Phillips said he 'cringed' when he heard that answer." - "Mike Rizzo gave Nats players inappropriate power, according to former MLB GM" - Scott Allen, The Washington Post
A Cubs official in Pittsburgh for the wild-card game said the Nationals have NOT asked permission to interview bench coach Dave Martinez.— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) October 7, 2015
• "'He understands all the numbers that are out there,' Maddon said. 'He understands people. He’s really good at tough conversations. He’s very straight up, straightforward and upfront.'" - "Cubs: Joe Maddon thinks Dave Martinez is ready to manage" - Patrick Mooney, CSN Chicago
Don't ever change, Anthony Rendon:
• "'He’s 24 years old. He’s fifth in the MVP voting in 2014. He’s a great player. He’s a guy you have to count on.'" - Mike Rizzo on Anthony Rendon - "Anthony Rendon: ‘I’m not gonna change anything’" - Chelsea Janes, The Washington Post
Nationals' instructional league profile:
• "Very good athlete," said Anderson. "He can run, he's got bat speed. His hands are really, really good. It was a lot of fun to be around him all year long." - "Update on instructional league in Florida, prospect spotlight on Osvaldo Abreu" - Byron Kerr, MASNSports.com
Some random baseball and some Nationals-related stuff:
• "The Nationals suffered a well-documented collapse for somewhat mysterious reasons, which left the door open for the Mets squad to take the lead. The Mets seized on the opportunity, albeit not without some drama." - "The Wild-Card Winner Is The Team To Beat In The NL" - Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight
From the Lerner Family to our fans: Thank you for your passion, energy & love of the game of baseball: http://t.co/wxqzttzhdD.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 7, 2015
• "#MizzouMade pitcher and current ace of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals Max Scherzer threw his second no-hitter of 2015 on Saturday night in a 2-0 win over the New York Mets." - "A Tip of the Cap to Max Scherzer from @MizzouAthletics" - University of Missouri Athletics
• "For some, like my beloved Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams, they’re already in the cold looking for a new Baseball 'boo'." - "Dating tips for Managers" - Trae Lewis, GammonsDaily.com
NL EAST UPDATES: Bethancourt's knee surgery, Matz's availability; Phillies' roster; Marlins' skipper
• Phillies: "Justin De Fratus and starting pitcher Jonathan Pettibone were among seven players the Phillies outrighted off their roster yesterday afternoon." - "Phillies dump Justin De Fratus, 6 others" - Ryan Lawrence, Philadelphia Daily News
• Mets: "If Steven Matz proves ready to pitch after throwing a simulated game Thursday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., he will claim the final spot. If not, left-hander Sean Gilmartin will take Matz's place." - "Steven Matz's health to settle NLDS roster" - Anthony DiComo, MLB.com
• Marlins: "To this point, it’s known that Larry Bowa, Manny Acta and Bo Porter are candidates for the Marlins, who are said to prefer someone with previous managerial experience." - "Latest On The Marlins' Managerial Search" - Steve Adams, MLB Trade Rumors