Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo discussed the in-house search for the next closer in the nation’s capital in an MLB Network Radio interview last week. With a number of relievers in camp trying to earn the job after the Nationals came up empty this winter in spite of their efforts to sign or acquire an experienced late-inning arm, the Nats have a decision to make in the near future.
Whichever reliever gets the job, whether it’s Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen or Koda Glover, the top three contenders for the job according to most reports, none has much experience closing out games at the major league level.
Rizzo explained that it’s, obviously, always the case when you don’t have a bona fide reliever to work the ninth.
Will the reliever who gets the nod to start the season as the Nationals’ closer be able to deal with the pressure?
“That’s always the question for a first-time closer,” Rizzo said.
“He doesn’t have the experience to close, so who’s going to close? We feel that we have a closer in-house.
“We felt that ever since early in the offseason when we didn’t get one of the big three closers. So we feel that he’s here, we’ll figure out which one it is. It will be determined by — they all have the stuff to do it. You talk about a power bullpen; we have four or five guys that throw 95-plus in the bullpen including Sammy Solis and Enny Romero.
“We’ve got a power bullpen, swing and miss stuff and we’re going to figure out the back end of it.
“We feel strongly about the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, that we’ve got guys there that can be efficient and help us win games, we’ve just got to figure out what piece fits the best.”
With under two weeks to go before Opening Day, Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker said on Tuesday that the Nationals have really discussed who’s going to claim the role yet.
“We haven’t really discussed it at any length who it is yet,” Baker told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman this afternoon.
“We’ll have a meeting. I believe in giving everybody a vote, cause that’s what good organizations do. You take all the brains in the room, you get their opinions.”
Baker said he would also ask his catchers to weigh in with their opinions on which pitcher has the right demeanor and control for the job before making the decision.
He cautioned, however, that no one should read anything into where his relievers are getting their work at this point.
So, for example, the fact that Koda Glover has been called upon in the ninth inning in his last five outings doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be working the ninth if the Nationals have a lead on Opening Day.
“He has the stuff to eventually be there,” Baker said. “We just have to decide: Is he ready or not now?
Glover has allowed four hits, a walk and one earned run in nine innings in Grapefruit League action thus far, striking out 11 batters and holding opposing hitters to a low .148 AVG.
As Baker noted, however, having pitched in ninth innings in his last few outings, Glover hasn’t necessarily faced major league-caliber hitters with all the substitutions that are common in Spring Training games.
Do they want to turn the ninth over to a 23-year-old reliever who has a total of 19 2⁄3 major league innings on his resume thus far?
Blake Treinen is relatively unproven as well, though he made significant strides and was able to correct some issues in his first season working with Mike Maddux last summer.
Shawn Kelley’s injury history (two Tommy John surgeries) is also a factor, of course, as Baker’s explained that you don’t want to have the veteran righty suffer an injury that leaves you without a reliever who played an important role in the pen last season.
There are still games to play this Spring and decisions to be made on the bench and in the bullpen, but time is running out for the Nats to decide which pitcher will come to the nation’s capital as the closer on Opening Day.