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Nats' skipper Dusty Baker on Sammy Solis and the Nationals' bullpen

While some thought the Washington Nationals' bullpen was a question mark coming into the season, Dusty Baker said last night the only questions in his mind were about where the relievers they had would slot in. The bullpen has been a weapon early...

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez and Jonathan Papelbon combined for three scoreless innings in relief of starter Gio Gonzalez last night, the Washington Nationals' relievers as a group owned the sixth-lowest combined ERA in the majors and the National League's lowest earned run average (2.48).

Nats' relievers' batting average against (.202) was the second-lowest in the National League, their 3.18 FIP was the NL's third-lowest, as was their .253 BABIP-against.

Their 9.04 K/9 were the fifth-highest and their 2.48 BB/9 were the NL's lowest.

Not bad for a group that was a big question mark coming into the season... right, Dusty Baker?

"Well, it was questionable by you guys, it wasn't questionable by us. We just didn't know where we were going to slot the guys." -Dusty Baker on the idea that the Nats' bullpen was a question mark

"Well, it was questionable by you guys, it wasn't questionable by us," Baker told reporters after the Nationals' 2-0 win over the Kansas City Royals in Kauffman Stadium.

As the Nationals' skipper explained it, the only questions coming into the regular season had to with where/how he would use his relievers.

"We just didn't know where we were going to slot the guys. That was the only question, so we found out rather quickly where we're going to put guys and when we should use them and how many days.

"When you don't know guys, Mike [Maddux] didn't know guys, then we confer a lot in the dugout on which guys are available before the game and during the game and we have some interchangeable parts.

"The guys are feeling confident and confidence is the key. So, it doesn't matter, we've just got to keep pitching and doing what we're doing."

The latest addition to the bullpen, Sammy Solis, has been thrown into the fire in his first three appearances out of the bullpen, with Baker using him in close games in each of the last two outings as a bridge to the back of the bullpen.

Baker talked before Solis made his 2016 debut after he was called up to take Matt Belisle's spot in the bullpen, about liking what he saw from the left-hander in Grapefruit League action.

"I liked him in Spring, big time," Baker said. "I just heard that he was a converted starter, a guy that had some injuries in the past and the reason why they put him in the pen, and when he was good, he was very good, but it's hard to judge guys in the Spring, because you don't know, like I said, who's a fast starter and who's not, and you don't have scouting reports on the guys that you're facing, so you're told to keep the ball down and the guy might be a low-ball hitter and you're throwing it right into his strength.

"Now we have reports, and things that we can help him with and he's been here before so it's not like he's going to be intimidated by the first time being in the big leagues. So he has a lot of positives going for him."

The fact that he was another left-hander had its benefits too, one of which, Baker joked, was that reporters could stop asking about his desire to have three lefties in the bullpen.

It also helped considering the teams the Nationals were lined up to face when Solis arrived, with dangerous left-hand hitters on the Phillies, Cardinals, Royals and Cubs' rosters.

"We're facing the Kansas City Royals [who] have a lot of left-hand hitters and the Cubs have a few, so I'm just glad we had Solis to take [Belisle's] place and I'm glad he's a left-hander."

Baker handed Solis the ball in the seventh last night with a 2-0 lead and the 27-year-old southpaw retired the Royals in order in an eight-pitch, six-strike frame.

"Solis came in and bridged that for us today and it will be somebody else hopefully tomorrow," Baker said.

He has options, and early this season, he's pushing the right buttons and pulling the right levers in the way he's using them.

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