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Washington Nationals’ 2017 bullpen: Will Nats find themselves a closer?

There are options available in free agency and trades, and there are in-house options for the Washington Nationals. So where will their next closer come from?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

As of this afternoon, the Washington Nationals have yet to make any significant additions to their bullpen (sorry Jimmy Cordero and Austin Adams), though they actually have attempted to sign or acquire a number of relievers this winter.

Writing about the Nats’ pursuit of Kenley Jansen, who eventually returned to the LA Dodgers, FanRag Sports’ Jon Perrotto wrote this past weekend about just how close Jansen came to choosing Washington before he returned to Los Angeles.

“The closer said he was set to sign with the [Nationals] in December until the Dodgers added an extra year to their offer. Thus, Jansen returned to Los Angeles on a five-year, $80 million contract.”

After pursuing Jansen, Mark Melancon, Wade Davis and others this winter, the Nationals, Perrotto notes, “... are left without a proven closer as they attempt to defend their National League East title.”

While there are still options available (Perrotto mentions the Nats’ rumored interest in free agent closer Greg Holland), the Nationals could still turn to their in-house options if necessary.

Perrotto suggests that Shawn Kelley, 32, is the “top in-house candidate” after Kelley finished the first season of his 3-year/$15M deal with the Nationals with a 2.64 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, 11 walks (1.71 BB/9), 80 Ks (12.41 K/9) and .193/.232/.403 line against in 58 innings pitched.

Kelley’s season ended when the right-hander was removed from Game 5 of the NLDS matchup with the Dodgers with numbness in the fingers of his right hand.

An NL scout Perrotto spoke to expressed some concern about what he saw from Kelley overall in 2016, when the righty relied more on his fastball than his slider, reversing a trend from the previous two seasons:

“His best pitch is that wipeout slider and he didn’t throw it much last year, which tells me he might he might have been protecting his arm,” the scout [said].

“His fastball is OK but, as good as he was last year, he needs to be able to throw the slider to be really effective.”

In 2014 with New York’s Yankees, Kelley threw his fastball 41.8% of the time, and his slider 57.2% of the time. In 2015, with San Diego, it was 44.4% fastball/55.1% sliders.

Last season, Kelley threw his fastball 56.2% of the time and his slider 43.7% of the time. Was it a result of a different approach with different catchers and coaches, or something else as the scout in the article speculates?

Will the Nationals turn closing duties over to the righty, who’s already undergone two Tommy John surgeries after using him carefully in his first season in D.C.?

Another in-house option? Blake Treinen, 28, who put up a 2.28 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 31 walks (4.16 BB/9) and 63 Ks (8.46 K/9) in 67 IP last season.

“He’s gotten better every year,” the scout Perrotto spoke to said.

“He throws a 97-mph fastball with sink and lefties don’t give him nearly as much trouble now that he has learned to throw his slider for strikes. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.”

In his first full season in the majors in 2015, opposing lefties had a .336/.425/.509 line against Treinen, who held righties to a .184/.276/.216 line.

In 2016, the hard-throwing right-hander held left-handed hitters to a .218/.348/.390 line and right-handers to a .221/.296/.305 line.

Treinen held hitters to a .118 AVG and collected 42 strikeouts with his slider last season.

Nationals’ Pitching Coach Mike Maddux talked about the difference he saw in Treinen over the course of their first season working together.

“A lot of outs per pitch thrown, gets the ball on the ground,” Maddux told reporters.

“You saw Blake Treinen in Spring Training, you saw Blake Treinen in October, that was puppy dog to bulldog. He was a beast at the end of the year. Could he handle the ninth? Sure.”

Writing about the Nationals’ internal relief options this morning, Washington Post beat writer Chelsea Janes mentioned Koda Glover as perhaps “the most natural fit to close,” while acknowledging his relative lack of professional experience, and discussing Trevor Gott, Cordero and Adams as bullpen possibilities.

Glover, 23, is recovering from a torn labrum in his hip this winter after working his way up over the last two seasons since the Nationals drafted him in the 8th Round in 2005.

GM Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter that whatever role he’s in, Glover will be an asset in the bullpen.

“I’m confident and comfortable that he’s going to be a good asset for the ballclub,” Rizzo said.

“He’s got good stuff, the right attitude, he’s got a little edge to him and a 98 mph fastball.”

Will the Nationals add an arm through free agency or trade before the start of Spring Training? There are options out there, and in-house options if they can’t find the right deal.