Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this week that he and the rest of the front office were doing what they could to try to straighten out the bullpen in the nation’s capital.
After Joe Ross (3 ER), Tony Sipp (1 ER), and Sean Doolittle (1 ER) each gave up runs in the 12-10 win on Friday night, the Nationals’ bullpen, as a group, had a National League worst 7.06 ERA, a 5.26 FIP (also the NL’s worst), an NL-high .338 BABIP-against, a .282 BAA (again, the NL’s highest), and a 1.66 WHIP (yep, highest again).
“You’ve seen that we’ve brought new guys in,” Rizzo said.
“We’ve kind of tried some new guys, we also have [six] pitchers on the [Injured] List, four relievers and two starters on the IL, so we went and reached for Tanner Rainey who’s shown that he has major league stuff and is kind of a reliable guy who can throw it over the plate, and we think that he’ll help us, we went out and got Javy Guerra who’s a proven veteran relief pitcher who you trust is going to throw strikes and give you a chance to win and that type of thing.”
“We’re looking for all avenues to improve ourselves bullpen-wise,” the GM added.
When he spoke again before the series opener with Miami, Rizzo said he wasn’t sure how to explain the struggles the Nationals’ relievers were dealing with as a group so far in 2019.
“It’s hard to explain,” Rizzo said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr. “The stuff is there. You look at velocity, movement and, again, track record and past performance and they’re just underperforming right now as a group. It’s something that has to improve and we’re looking for ways to fix it via all sorts of alternatives - trade market, waiver wire and everything to see if we can fix a portion of the team that needs to be fixed.”
The latest attempt at a potential solution is to call up right-hander James Bourque, who had something of a breakout season working exclusively in relief for the first time in 2018.
Bourque, 25, and a 2014 Nats’ 14th Round pick out of the University of Michigan, finished up the 2018 campaign with a 2.16 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 12 walks (3.24 BB/9), and 52 Ks (14.04 K/9) over 33 1⁄3 innings on the mound for Class-A Potomac, and a stingy 0.92 ERA, a 3.02 FIP, 14 walks (6.41 K/9), and 24 Ks (10.98 K/9) in 19 2⁄3 IP at Double-A Harrisburg.
“I was pretty happy with the season,” Bourque told reporters this winter. “I think, first full year as a reliever, I had to learn some things first couple weeks, first month or so, and then got into a routine and kind of built some confidence and then carried that throughout the year.”
Before he was called up today, the right-hander had a (3-0) record, six saves, a 1.33 ERA, a 1.60 FIP, six walks (2.66 BB/9), and 33 Ks (14.61 K/9) in 14 games and 20 1⁄3 IP, and the Nats noted in a press release on the promotion that, “... he tossed scoreless relief in 11 of his 14 outings, and pitched more than one inning in seven of the 14.”
Bourque’s 14.61 K/9 led Eastern League pitchers with a minimum of 20 IP as well.
Will Bourque help the Nationals to turn things around, or struggle along with the rest of the relievers in the bullpen.