After the deal that sent Tyler Clippard to the Oakland A's in return for veteran infielder Yunel Escobar this winter, General Manager Mike Rizzo talked with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier about the difficulty of replacing Clippard and what he provided in Washington's bullpen.
There were options, the Nationals' GM said, though replacing a pitcher like Clippard is never easy.
"It's going to be difficult to fill Tyler Clippard's performance in the eighth inning," Rizzo admitted.
"But we certainly have candidates to back-fill the bullpen and power arms to get the opportunity to pitch later, more leverage innings during the game. Bullpens are built each and every year. Tyler Clippard got an opportunity years back to prove what he could do and we're talking about him as one of the best eighth-inning relievers in baseball.
"So it opens the door to the Blake Treinens of the world and the Aaron Barretts of the world to take the next step in their progression of their career and take more leverage innings."
They didn't just lose Clippard, of course, with Rafael Soriano and Ross Detwiler departing via free agency and trade, respectively, as well, but the Nats added Casey Janssen on a relatively cheap free agent deal this Spring and when injuries and struggles hit the bullpen, the Nats added former New York Yankees' right-hander David Carpenter to the late-inning mix along with Treinen, Barrett and another former Yankee, Matt Thornton.
According to multiple reports, however, the Nationals are still looking to add arms to the back of the bullpen as the trade deadline approaches, though Rizzo did tell reporters this past weekend in Baltimore that they would assess what the Nats have available in-house before exploring other possibilities.
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell was asked about the Nationals' need for a late-inning reliever in a chat with readers yesterday, and wrote in response that the Nats, "... don't have enough to cover the 6th-7th-8th in the post-season as they are currently built. It's obvious.":
"When you have a low-cost FA reliever (Janssen) who'd had injuries as he ages and does it with mirrors, plus two DFA'ed relievers -- Thornton and Carpenter -- doing eighth inning by committee (and with poor results) then that pretty much defines Not Good Enough."
With the Nationals looking to win a World Series, Boswell concluded that they need to add another late-inning arm.
The WaPost's veteran columnist also talked about Treinen's issues thus far this season, noting the high walk totals, and suggesting that the Nationals really need him to step up, "... especially if they don't get a top set-up man by the trade deadline."
Treinen, Boswell mentions -- who walked 13 batters (2.31 BB/9) in 50 ⅔ IP in the rotation and bullpen last year -- has walked 20 (4.43 BB/9) in 40 ⅔ IP so far this season, "... which is awful, unacceptable, especially if you have a 97 mph sinker and almost never give up a HR."
After a particularly rough outing against the Toronto Blue Jays last month, which saw Treinen give up three hits, a walks and three earned runs in ⅔ of an inning of work, Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked about what goes wrong for Treinen when he struggles.
"For me tonight he was throwing through his sink," Williams said. "It's nasty sink, it's 97 and going down hard and tonight he was just throwing through it a little bit, so the ball straightened out on him."
A leadoff single by Jose Reyes put pressure on Treinen, he continued, "... but it was for me just a little bit throwing through [his sink]. The more work he gets the better sink he tends to get and it's more down and he induces those grounders, tonight he couldn't do it."
"For him it's not about corners, it's about down," Williams explained.
"The sinker down is difficult to get in the air and we see a lot of grounders, we see a lot of balls hit on the ground and in that regard, he's always one pitch away from a double play too.
"Tonight the ball was elevated a touch. He threw some good sliders, some swing and miss sliders, but for the most part he was elevated tonight, so for him it's more important down than in and out."
Can Treinen continue to pound the zone, keep the ball down and step up if the Nationals can't find a set-up man?
After using Carpenter with a runner on and one out in the eighth inning of a 4-1 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates to get the lead to Drew Storen in Carpenter's fourth appearance with the Nationals, Williams talked about trusting the veteran reliever in that spot.
"He's been in that situation so it's not foreign to him," Williams said.
"He's accustomed to coming in there in the eighth inning, whether he comes in there as part of the eighth inning or starts the eighth. So it's a perfect role for him and he's aggressive. He throws strikes from what we've seen. So we're glad to have him. It lengthens our bullpen, it certainly shortens our games if we can go to him in the eighth to get to Drew in the ninth, so glad to have him."
Carpenter has pitched the eighth inning of close games in three of his last four appearances.
Janssen told reporters this past weekend that he felt like he hasn't really contributed yet and needs to find a role, and Rizzo, as quoted by MASNSports.com's Chris Johnson, said he thought the veteran right-hander was beginning to get it going after starting the season late when a shoulder issue shut him down in Spring Training:
"He was a guy who we liked when we signed him. We thought he was a guy that had experience in the ninth inning (and) could handle the seventh and eighth inning. I think that as you see him getting comfortable and really coming out of spring training mode."
The reliever said he wanted to show the Nationals that, "they don't need to look anymore," for bullpen help.
Is there anything the Nats' relievers can do in the next few weeks that convinces the Nationals' brass that they don't need to bolster the relief corps?
"Everybody looks for a seventh, eighth-inning guy, not always the case," Williams said when discussing his bullpen usage last month, and talking about matching up with what they're up against.
"It could be somebody different on any given day."
Will another option be added to the mix before the end of the month?