With rumors swirling of interest on the part of the Washington Nationals in free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked recently about how he’ll have to handle the current relief corps in the nation’s capital carefully since a number of his relievers have had to deal with injury issues over the last few seasons.
“I like where we’re at, I really do,” Martinez said earlier this week, as quoted by MASN’s Pete Kerzel.
“Like I’ve said, my biggest concern is keeping these guys healthy. You’ve got Trevor [Rosenthal], coming off of Tommy John. [Kyle] Barraclough had injuries last year. [Sean] Doolittle missed three months with a toe injury. Keeping all these guys healthy is the key. If we can stay healthy, our bullpen’s gonna be really good.”
With the injury history of the big, back-of-the-bullpen arms, however, it’s not too surprising that the Nationals have come up in the chatter about Kimbrel.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo addressed the chatter in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Monday, simultaneously downplaying and acknowledging the fact that it’s something that they have talked about without giving anything away as to the true level of interest in the free agent reliever.
“You know how we do it,” Rizzo said. “We’re never finished, we’re always trying, we’re always talking to people and that type of thing, and sometimes people talk about — when you go out and reach out and talk about a player — we’ve spoken to several free agents, including him.”
Rizzo went on to discuss how the late-inning relievers on the Nationals’ roster now will be handled and what roles he expects them to fill.
“I think Doolittle, he’s one of the top two or three relievers in all of baseball,” Rizzo said, “so he’s going to get the ball in the ninth inning, and Rosenthal is a proven closer, he’s a former All-Star, his stuff is great, and we’re going to ease him back into those kind of roles.”
In a previous interview with 106.7 the FAN’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, Rizzo talked about the decision to give Rosenthal, the former St. Louis Cardinals’ closer a 1-year/$7M deal this winter after scouts watched the righty throw in a showcase as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery.
“I’ve seen enough of Rosenthal over the years to know that I’d rather have him with us than against us,” Rizzo said last month.
“He’s been remarkable in his career, got hurt, Tommy John, rehabbed it really, really well, 18 months later we had one of our best scouts go out there and see him pitch, and he was really, really excited about him, and a guy who when I read that scout, he very rarely gets as excited as he was, so when we hung up the phone about three hours later we had Rosenthal signed.”
Rosenthal will likely set up for Doolittle, working the eighth, and he can close out games if needed when/if Doolittle needs a night off.
“They can both pitch the ninth inning,” Rizzo said on Monday. “They’ve both shown that they can in the past, and that’s a good thing to have because there will be days that Doolittle is going to be unavailable, if he pitches several days in a row, and Rosenthal. So we’re going to take care of Doolittle like we did last year. Unfortunately, the foot set him back, but everything else was good with him, and [Rosenthal], we’re going to have to be careful with him, coming off Tommy John, so we’re going to have to be careful with him.
“But we like the depth that we have down there. We’ve got power arms on the come that we feel we can count on.”
Kyle Barraclough was the other new bullpen addition this winter. He figures to handle the seventh if the Nationals stick with the arms already in the organization this Spring.
Rizzo talked last month about the deal that brought Barraclough to D.C. coming off a 2018 campaign which saw the right-hander dominate in the first-half before struggling mightily throughout the second half of the season.
“Miami was in real need of some international money late in the season,” Rizzo explained.
“We happened to have it and made what we thought was a really solid for an up-and-coming big arm that has proven it at the major league level, had some struggles, and now we think that he’s going to right the ship and be a guy for us.”
Koda Glover (elbow tightness) and Justin Miller (lower back) are dealing with injury issues early this Spring. Wander Suero, Jimmy Cordero, Austen Williams, Kyle McGowin, Austin L. Adams, James Bourque, and the other right-handers in camp give the Nationals and their manager choices in the bullpen, and lefties Sammy Solis, Matt Grace, and Vida Nuño (NRI) give Martinez options from the left side.
“I think going into the winter last year, [Rizzo] did a good job of creating depth, and we do have that now,” Martinez said earlier this Spring when asked about all of the options giving him ways to avoid burning any one pitcher out.
“With all the technology we have now with our medical staff and everything, if we feel like somebody is breaking down, we can nip something in the bud right now, and if it’s a starter maybe skip a start, if it’s a reliever, just shut him down for 10 days, so we can prevent those long injuries.”
Will the Nationals add Kimbrel and increase the depth on the roster and the options for their manager in his second season on the bench in D.C.?