Washington’s bullpen blew another (another!) save and game on Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies, with Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover allowing the Phillies to post three runs and take the day game of a day-night doubleheader, 4-3 in Nationals Park.
So, after much deliberation, we can decisively conclude that the Nationals’ bullpen is not good. In fact, it even may be bad. To help Mike Rizzo, Dusty Baker, and the team get out of their rut, we’ve put together a four-step program so they can hopefully get back to good.
Before that plan is unveiled, one thing is important to keep in mind: the keyword here is damage control.
The Nationals bullpen, as it is, isn’t going to be stellar.
The goal, until they can get some real help at the trade deadline, is to make it as good as it can possibly be with the guys it already has.
With that said, let’s get going.
Mike Rizzo’s theory on the bullpen’s struggles entering the weekend was that once they had Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover back from injury, they would be decent yet again.
As Rizzo said on 106.7 the Fan:
“I think you have to get your three best relievers healthy. You open the season with [Shawn] Kelley, [Koda] Glover and [Sammy] Solis on the disabled list —it’s tough.”
Glover looked good on Saturday, and Kelley managed to work a scoreless ninth despite some drama.
On Sunday afternoon, Kelley allowed three earned runs, the third of which came on a hit off of Koda Glover.
It’s still quite possible that Rizzo’s theory is the case; Kelley, after not pitching for fifteen days, threw 49 competitive pitches in less than 24 hours. Glover, after sitting idle for nineteen days, threw 33 competitive pitches, also in less than 24 hours. Both still may come back on Tuesday or Wednesday and be extremely effective. The point is that they both need to rest.
2. Shake it up:
Dusty Baker and Mike Rizzo really can’t make things worse than they already are by making a few changes without signing Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge — so they should try a few changes.
For one thing, at least ponder the idea of putting Joe Ross in the bullpen.
In his career as a starter, opponents have hit .192 against him and scored a mere 20 runs against Ross in his first time through the order.
The second time through, opponents tee off, hitting .314 against him with 41 runs, good for a 5.15 FIP (a more refined version of ERA that isolates a pitcher’s individual performance).
For another thing, try finding a way to bring up Triple-A farmhand Austin Adams to the major leagues.
Adams, whom the Nats acquired from the Angels in exchange for Danny Espinosa, has put up a 1.45 ERA in Syracuse, with 31 strikeouts over 18.2 innings pitched.
He struggles with command a bit (7.71 BB/9) but definitely has major league stuff.
If Rizzo really wants to go crazy, bring up veteran reliever Joe Nathan for one last ride.
Sure, he has a 5.59 ERA in Syracuse, but those are the numbers that most guys have in the Nats’ bullpen anyways.
3. Make some hard decisions:
At some point, Mike Rizzo is going to have to cut his losses with a few guys; if Joe Blanton doesn’t figure out his mechanics soon, it may be time for him to be designated for assignment.
At some point, the Nationals can’t afford to employ a guy who gives up a home run every three fly balls, good for a 9.49 ERA.
Rizzo may also have to demote Blake Treinen to Triple-A; he could still very well be useful to the team this season, but the two choices the Nats have with him—to only use him in super low-leverage situations (almost never), or to have him figure out his problems in high-leverage at-bats—aren’t exactly good ones.
His best option is time in Syracuse to go and figure out what he’s doing wrong in games that don’t really matter.
He may also have to concede that Enny Romero isn’t ready for prime time yet and have him trade spots with Oliver Perez, who has mainly held his own in limited appearances this season.
4. Put some guys on the block:
Yes, this is kind of close to “trade! trade! trade!” which is something I said we would be avoiding here. That said, the Nats can help improve their chances in the future by making it clear to the rest of the league that they’re willing to trade any prospect not named Victor Robles or Erick Fedde — and maybe even Erick Fedde.
Juan Soto, Andrew Stevenson, Rafael Bautista, and Erick Fedde may all one day be valuable pieces for the Nats and could have major-league impacts, but prospects are prospects.
Soto probably won’t be in the majors for another three to four years, Bautista and Stevenson are most likely blocked off in the outfield (depending on whether or not the Nationals keep Bryce Harper), and Erick Fedde could be at least two years away from starting games regularly in the majors.
Rebuilding teams would still all love to have all of them, which is why Mike Rizzo should make it clear that they are for the taking provided that other teams provide the pieces that the Nationals so desperately need.
And, to be frank: The Nats are not going to have a better chance than this season to win a world series for a long, long time.
The offense is better than it has ever been. The rotation is better than it will ever be for the next few years.
The bullpen is something worth fixing, and winning a World Series is worth some potential uncertainty in right field if Bryce Harper departs in 2019.
If Rizzo gets Dusty Baker two or three guys that can be consistent day-in and day-out, then the rest of the bullpen can slot into their best places.
Otherwise, the Nats will be looking at a colossal problem heading down the stretch.