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Washington Nationals' 2016 Bullpen: Key additions leave some outside looking in

Washington Nationals' bench coach Chris Speier said earlier this month that he doesn't know if he's been a part of a team that's headed into Spring Training with so few questions regarding the pitching staff. Things could change, of course. Who is in? Who's outside looking in?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals' bench coach Chris Speier talked earlier this month about the impressive collection of arms that the Nats have assembled as they prepare for the 2016 campaign.

"I was just doing a little thing with [pitching coach] Mike Maddux," Speier explained, "and he was kind of going through the pitching staff, and then going through the bullpen.

"We were talking about it. It may be the first time that I've ever been in a Spring Training camp where all twelve spots might already be taken.

"It may be the first time that I've ever been in a Spring Training camp where all twelve spots might already be taken. You know, we're not searching and looking and trying to fill." -Nats' bench coach Chris Speier on the Nationals' pitching staff

"You know, we're not searching and looking and trying to fill. The depth that this club has, that part is exciting, from the pitching standpoint."

While that's good news for the twelve Nationals' pitchers who likely have spots, like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross in the rotation, right-handed relievers Shawn Kelley, Yusmeiro Petit, Trevor Gott, Drew Storen, Jonathan Papelbon and left-handers Oliver Perez and Felipe Rivero, it leaves a number of pitchers who've seen time in the majors on the outside looking in, barring, of course, further moves or trades for the likes of Papelbon or Storen that many expect will happen this winter.

Blake Treinen talked earlier this month about working to improve against left-handed hitters after struggling to retire them last season and said that he's not concerned about what role he'll be asked to fill.

"I'm not worried about roles and I don't think anybody on this team is," Treinen said.

"Can't get caught up in it. We just go out and pitch to our ability and the team and the organization is going to put us where they feel we're best suited to help this team win. When we buy into that and we will, this season is going to be fun. Ultimately, we're just going to play for the guy next us, or at least I am, but I know we will as a team. We've got great guys on the team."

A.J. Coleranked 7th overall on Baseball America's list of the Nationals' top prospects for 2016, debuted in the majors in 2015, making one start and two relief appearances.

"I love being a starter and that's what I've always been, but if they want me as a relief pitcher, anything like that right now, that's what I'll do." -Nationals' pitcher A.J. Cole on role in 2016

He said he would be okay with the idea of pitching out of the bullpen if that's where there is a need.

"I mean, whatever they want me as right now," Cole said. "I mean, I love being a starter and that's what I've always been, but if they want me as a relief pitcher, anything like that right now, that's what I'll do."

Oliver Perez signed on this winter and looks like he'll be the Nationals' left-handed specialist and Felipe Rivero was a big surprise success in the bullpen last season and could fill a long-relief role after showing an ability to pitch in either late or multiple inning opportunities.

Left-handers Sammy Solis and Matt Grace, both of whom debuted in 2015, talked about what lies ahead. Solis was a starter before being called up to work out of the pen. Grace switched to relieving full time back in 2012.

Solis said he hasn't been told which role to prepare for this winter, but he's comfortable in either the rotation or the pen.

"They have not told me anything and I actually prefer it that way," he said. "I just want to kind of keep my head down and work hard and just see how it falls. Because if I'm preparing to be a starter and, hey, all of a sudden someone gets hurt and now they need a reliever, now I haven't been preparing for that. So I'm just kind of keeping it mellow, staying even keel and see what happens."

Pitching in relief, Solis said, was "different".

"It was definitely an adjustment. It was the first time I had ever done it. So, going from a starter to, 'Hey, you're pitching at the highest level in the world now at a new position,' it's definitely different and difficult, but now I think I've adjusted to it a little bit more and now I know what I'm doing."

Grace said the experience of pitching in the majors definitely influenced the way he's preparing for 2016.

"It does change your mindset," he said. "I think once you get a taste of what it's like in the big leagues and you finally reach that point, you'll do anything possible to get back there and stay there.

"If you're kind of in the minor leagues, people tell you what it's like to be in the big leagues, but it's a huge privilege, it's a huge honor and everything you've worked towards getting there, it just makes everything worth it and at this point it's all in on it, to try to be as good as I can."

He also said he's noticed the way the Nationals are reshaping the bullpen this winter.

"Obviously with the additions, I try to just focus on what I can do. That's all out of my control. It's nothing personal," he said.

"They're just trying to create the best team for next year for what they think the needs are and I understand that, that's how it is. But at the same time I would love the opportunity to make that team out of Spring Training and with the additions it does make it a little bit more difficult, but focus on everything that I can control and getting better and trying to be on that roster on Opening Day."

Injuries, potential trades, additions and subtractions could change things, but the way things stand now, the Nationals' bullpen looks full.