December 9, 2019

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part V: The Bullpen

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard pitched 8th inning and earned 10th hold against Baltimore Orioles, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard in action of May 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

THE BULLPEN

Rafael Soriano, RHP: The saves were there last year, the elite skills were not. Soriano’s ERA and WHIP were their highest in any season he’s been a team’s top closer. On top of that, his K rate went down precipitously as he transitioned from a pitcher with a slider out pitch to a fastball pitcher, one who’s lost velocity each of the past four seasons. He lowered his walk rate, which obviously is good, but his hit rate jumped. His ground ball rate has dropped the past three seasons as his line drive and fly ball rates have risen, more evidence of him abandoning anything but the fastball. If the walk rate goes back to his normal seasonal allowance, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, the velocity and strikeout rate drops are a big warning sign for a 34-year-old pitcher who hates not closing.

Tyler Clippard, RHP: Clippard turned in another exceptional season for the Nats with a 2.41 ERA and ridiculous 0.859 WHIP. All was bolstered by an incredibly unsustainable 4.7 H/9 rate and .172 BABiP, which completely mirrored his 2011 All-Star campaign. Those types of numbers are just unheard of, so he’s unlikely to repeat them, but he’s a funky pitcher. He succeeds with high fastballs and a changeup that almost impossible to identify out of his unusual and, frankly, weird delivery. The strikeout and ground ball rates were down just a tick but not alarmingly so. Clippard should be just fine in his established role. The big thing to worry about him is the price tag. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $5.88 million contract and he isn’t a free agent until after 2016, so the price tags is just going to keep going up. That’s a lot for a non-closer reliever — albeit one of the best in the game.

Drew Storen, RHP: Oh boy. Where do we start? Storen was fairly terrible in the first half, pitching to a 5.95 ERA, fueled by a .355 BABiP and outrageously high hit rate. The walks were fine, the Ks were fine, he was just simply unlucky as to balls finding their way into green space. He was sent to the minors on July 26 after wearing a the final inning of an 11-0 drubbing by the Mets on a day that he ran a 103 degree fever. When he came back Aug. 16, he was the same old Storen. Well, not really. He ditched the silly straight leg kick for a more conventional one that allowed him to have a more consistent delivery, but the results were more attributable to normalization. He held batters to a .200/.263/.214 line upon his return.

Jerry Blevins, LHP: Obtained from the A’s for Minor League Player of the Year Billy Burns, Blevins is more than a typical lefty specialist — he actually owned better numbers against righties than lefties last season. Overall, a 3.15 ERA and 1.067 WHIP were solid. He has a four-pitch repertoire and faced four or more batters in more than half of his appearance last season. Blevins won’t overwhelm with his fastball, and his K rates will keep him in a set up or LOOGY role, but he knows how to pitch. Has improved his walk rate each of the past three seasons.

Xavier Cedeno, LHP: Want the good news? Cedeno enjoyed his career year last season at age 26, earning a 1.50 ERA and 1.000 WHIP for the Nats. He struck out 9 per nine innings and walked just 1.5. Want the bad news? He also suffered his worst season as a big leaguer last year, as he allowed 11 runs (eight earned) in 6.1 innings for Houston before they cut him in April. Am I being dramatic? You betcha. But Cedeno’s numbers for the Nats came in just 6.0 over 11 games. Against lefties, Cedeno provided a .231/.333/.269 slash. Against righties, that jumped to .391/.517/.522. Granted, we’re talking 29 and 31 plate appearances here. Call me skeptical, but I just don’t see Cedeno coming anywhere near approaching his numbers for the Nats last season again. He’s not a kid, and nothing in his history indicates this was anything more than a couple of good appearances in a row against limited competition.

Craig Stammen, RHP: Stammen could start for half the teams in baseball. His stuff is that good. All his peripherals continue to go in the right direction and his traditional numbers are solid across the board. Is this a pitcher that has found his spot? Or are the Nats hiding a gem, either intentionally or not. Either way, Stammen has proven to be an absolutely invaluable arm in the long role that he’s occupied the past two season for the team. His walk rate dropped by 0.7 this year over last — if that holds, he should earn higher leverage late innings if Clippard gets too expensive.

Ryan Mattheus, RHP: On the other hand… Mattheus was unlucky, sure. His BABiP of .405 screams it. But look at the rest. Rising walk rate. K rate less than 6 per nine. Lost velocity on his sinker. Punching a locker, breaking his hand and being completely and utterly lost once he returned. The hit rate is going to stabilize somewhat, but how much is luck and how much is just erosion of skill? He’s 30, not a youngster that needs to figure things out. He needs to prove health and competence or there are plenty of arms that will push him out of a job.

Josh Roenicke, RHP: Roenicke is famous for being the son of former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke and also being Ian Desmond’s brother-in-law. Roenicke the pitcher, however, is mediocre at best. He was brought in as an NRI and will provide depth in Syracuse most likely. He walks way too many (5.2 per nine in 62 IP last season) without the high K rate (just 6.5/9) that allows you live with it.

Erik Davis, RHP: Davis made his MLB debut last season at age 26, compiling a 1-0 record, 3.12 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 8.2 innings, striking out 12 while walking just one. This was after going 3-7 with 15 saves, 3.10 ERA and 1.433 WHIP in AAA, so small sample caveats abound. Davis was slated to compete for a role in this year’s pen, but was placed on the 60-day D.L. with an “elbow strain” on the same day the Nats traded for Jose Lobaton. It’s quite possible he never throws a pitch to Lobaton.

Christian Garcia, RHP: “If only Garcia could stay healthy…” Any Nats fan that knows more than just Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg will cite Garcia as their secret weapon. He’s got the stuff, he knows how to pitch, and he’s still young enough (27) that he could impact the MLB roster. Unfortunately, that part of staying healthy just keeps eluding Garcia. He’s already had two Tommy John’s while he was property of the Yankees and last season he was limited to 13.1 innings in the minors after suffering a torn wrist tendon, which triggered shoulder soreness and hamstring injuries. He owns four quality MLB pitches, he just needs to get on a mound to show them off. Problem is, he can’t.

Manny Delcarmen, RHP: Delcarmen, 32, hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010 with the Rockies. Why is he here? Well, he’s always had good stuff and has had several full seasons of downright goodness at the big league level. In 07-08 with the Red Sox he was a quality righty in their pen and some thought he had closer written all over him. Problem is, his walk rate was always high and got higher the older he got and his K rate plummeted after he hit 27. When he should have been in the peak of his career, he busted. Read into that however you want. Last year in AAA, he went 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.222 WHIP in 54 innings, so there might be something left. At the triple-A level, anyway.

Aaron Barrett, RHP: Barrett was drafted four times: by the Dodgers in the 44th round of the ’06 draft, by the Twins in the 20th round in ’08, by Texas in the 27th round in ’09 and finally by the Nats in the 9th round in 2010 after his eligibility ended for the University of Mississippi. Barrett, at age 25, dominated AA last year for Harrisburg, going 1-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 1.093 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 and outrageous 12.3 K/9. In fact, in 149.2 IP in his minor league career, Barrett owns a 12.0 K/9 rate. He does this all with an average fastball, but a slider that Baseball America deemed best in the Nats’ system. At 6’4″, 215 he has a big league build. He needs to pitch against players his own age this year but his arm is definitely intriguing.

Clay Hensley, RHP: Hensley is a slight (5’11”, 190) righty that for the past few seasons has been able to fool enough batters to keep getting chances in the big leagues. But at 33 now, he’s running out of gas. Last season for San Francisco in 50.2 IP he walked 5.3 per nine and his ERA (4.62) showed it. Coupled with a 5.19 ERA for Florida in ’12, Hensley’s hanging on to the end of his rope.

Washington Nationals Game 57 Review: Middle relief culprit again in 6-3 loss to Braves

If the Washington Nationals want to consider their deficit in the N.L. East, they need to look no further than the team across the diamond from them Sunday. The Atlanta Braves took advantage of the Nats bullpen yet again, while Washington could muster nothing against the Braves’, falling in the series finale 6-3. With the loss, the Nats drop below .500 (28-29).

The Braves lead in the East stretched to a whopping 6 1/2 games — the largest in baseball currently. The Nats have a season series record against the Braves of 3-7, accounting for a large portion of that deficit.

As was the case Saturday night, the Nats bullpen could not handle their responsibility, as Zach Duke walked four and gave up two hits in his two-thirds of an inning, effectively digging the Nats hitters a hole they are incapable of rallying from these days.

Duke’s incapacity to throw strikes Sunday made a loser out of Nathan Karns (0-1, 6.00). Karns was not as strong as in his debut, but left two runners on base when he left the game, and Duke allowed both to score. The rookie, who made his second MLB start, gave up four runs — three earned — on seven hits and a walk, striking out six in 4 2/3 innings.

After the Nats went in order in the top of the first against Braves starter Paul Maholm (W, 7-4, 3.68), the Braves jumped right on Karns. Leadoff hitter Andrelton Simmons reached on a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman, his tenth of the season. The next hitter, Ramiro Pena, clobbered a fastball into the stands in right for an early 2-0 lead for Atlanta.

The Nats got both runs back in the second. Adam LaRoche doubled to lead off and went to third on Ian Desmond’s bunt single. Tyler Moore followed with a run-scoring single to left to get the Nats on the board. Later in the inning, Maholm butchered Karns’ popped up bunt. All hands were safe, and Desmond scooted home with the then-tying run.

The tie didn’t last long, as B.J. Upton homered off Karns in the bottom half of the inning to re-take the lead.

Things stayed that way until the fateful fifth inning. Justin Upton started the Braves rally with a one-out single off Karns. After the Nats righty got Freddie Freeman to fly out, he lost Evan Gattis on a 3-2 fastball after having the slugger down 0-2. Manager Davey Johnson called on Duke at that point, and Duke did nothing but pour gasoline on the fire. On Duke’s ninth pitch to Brian McCann, the Braves catcher finally got one he could handle, slapping a single to left field to plate Upton. Duke got out of the inning without more damage, but he wasn’t done yet.

Desmond homered in the top of the sixth to cut the Braves lead to 4-3. In the bottom of the frame, Duke walked the first two batters he faced. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, Duke intentionally walked Justin Upton to face Freeman. The decision backfired, as Freeman doubled off the top of the wall in left field, plating two more runs. The play was reviewed as the Braves thought the hit was a home run, but the call on the field stood.

Not that it mattered.

The Nats went hitless in the last three innings, failing to muster any sort of comeback. Washington has yet to score on the Braves bullpen in their ten games this season. For the entire year, the Nats are hitting .194/.252/.286 in innings seven though nine.

THE GOOD: Right-hander Erik Davis, called up Saturday from Triple-A Syracuse, made a successful Major League debut, throwing 1 2/3 perfect innings of relief, recording two strikeouts.

THE BAD: The bottom third of the Nats order went 1-for-9 with five runners left stranded.

THE UGLY: Zach Duke. Whatever magic the lefty used last season to get his name back in good graces, he must have used all up. His ERA sits at 8.71 now and just continues to have poor performance after another, giving up multiple runs in four of his last five appearances.

THE STATS: 5 hits, 0 BBs, 4 Ks. 2-for-6 with RISP, 3 LOB. E: Zimmerman (10, throw). No DPs.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:05 against the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Jordan Zimmermann (8-3, 2.37) hosts Jeremy Hefner (1-5, 4.74).

NATS/CHIEFS: Syracuse Chiefs Opening Day Roster, April 4

Today, April 4 is the opening day for the Syracuse Chiefs, Washington Nationals Triple-A Affiliate.

Syracuse Chiefs Press Release HeaderCHIEFS ANNOUNCE PRELIMINARY 2013 OPENING DAY ROSTER
12 players from last year’s team to return

Syracuse, NY—The Syracuse Chiefs, Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, are pleased to announce their preliminary roster for the 2013 season. Syracuse, led by second-year manager Tony Beasley, will begin its season on Thursday, April 4, at 7:05 at Lehigh Valley, with its home opener on Friday, April 12 at 2:05 vs. the IronPigs.

Syracuse’s active Opening Day roster features 16 former major leaguers and seven players on the Nationals’ 40-man roster. The Chiefs also return 12 players from last year’s Syracuse squad and 15 former Chiefs in total.

The Chiefs’ opening day staff will consist of 13 pitchers, five of whom spent time in Syracuse last season. Yunesky Maya (11-10, 3.88 ERA in 28 starts with the Chiefs in 2012), Tanner Roark (6-17, 4.39 ERA in 26 starts) and Ryan Perry (1-1, 4.50 ERA in 11 relief appearances) are slated to hold three of the spots in Syracuse’s rotation. Maya returns for his fourth season with Syracuse, with Roark and Perry as second-year Chiefs.

The other two spots in Syracuse’s season-opening rotation will be held by right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and left-hander Danny Rosenbaum. Ohlendorf, a veteran of 108 major league games with the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres, is in his first year with the Nationals’ organization. Rosenbaum, recently returned from Colorado after being selected in the 2012 Rule V draft, will begin his fifth professional season in the Nationals’ organization. He sported a 3.94 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg in 26 starts last season.

The bullpen will feature returning right-handers Erik Davis and Jeff Mandel, with Mandel also entering fourth Syracuse season and Davis his second. Right-hander Ryan Tatusko also rejoins the team for the second time after spending the entire 2012 season in Harrisburg, where he sported a 3.50 ERA.

Two other former Chiefs join the bullpen – left-hander J.C. Romero and right-hander Jeremy Accardo. Romero, a veteran of 680 major-league games, pitched in five games for the Chiefs in 2011. Accardo, who’s pitched 262 games in the majors, tossed five games for the Chiefs in 2008, the final year of Syracuse’s affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The remaining three spots in the bullpen are filled out by two former major leaguers – left-hander Fernando Abad (Houston) and right-hander Mike Crotta (Pittsburgh) – and left-hander Patrick McCoy, who finished 7-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 50 games for Double-A Harrisburg last season.

Offensively, both Chiefs catchers return from last year’s squad. Jhonatan Solano rejoins Syracuse for the fourth time after a season in which he made his major league debut (.312 batting average in 12 games with Washington), while veteran Carlos Maldonado also returns to Syracuse for the fourth time. The two have combined to play in 306 career games with Syracuse.

Syracuse’s infield is split between three returning Chiefs and three newcomers. First baseman Chris Marrero, shortstop Zach Walters, and third baseman Carlos Rivero – a postseason International League All-Star last season – will rejoin the Chiefs after spending time in Washington’s major league camp this spring. Infielder Jeff Kobernus, who led stole 42 bases for Double-A Harrisburg to lead the 2012 Eastern League, will join them for his Triple-A debut. Former major leaguers Mike Costanzo (Cincinnati) and Will Rhymes (Detroit, Tampa Bay) round out the six-man group.

In the outfield, postseason International League All-Star Corey Brown will return to Syracuse for the third time. Brown led all Chiefs players in 2012 with 25 home runs and also appeared in 19 major league games for Washington. He’ll be joined by 22-year-old Eury Perez, the youngest Chief on the Opening Day roster. Converted pitcher Micah Owings, who’s appeared in 174 major league games, and former Canadian Olympic outfielder Jimmy Van Ostrand will both join the Chiefs for the first time.

Tickets for all Syracuse Chiefs home games are on sale now and can be purchased online at SyracuseChiefs.com, by calling 315-474-7833, or in person at the Chiefs ticket office. Full- and partial-season ticket plans are also available through each of the same three methods.

Washington Nationals trim spring roster to 33

With Opening Day just two weeks away, and manager Davey Johnson’s preference to play his starters heavily in the next-to-last week of Spring Training, the Washington Nationals sent out much of their Major League-ready backup talent to the minors before taking on the Detroit Tigers at Space Coast Stadium Monday morning.

The Nats today optioned right-handed pitchers Erik Davis, Yunesky Maya and Ryan Perry, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Chris Marrero and outfielder Corey Brown to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League. Additionally, the Nationals re-assigned right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters to minor league camp.

Along with sending these players down, the Nats also granted catcher Chris Snyder his unconditional release. Snyder had an opt-out in his contract and is expected to sign a contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Snyder move signals that the team is comfortable with Wilson Ramos to open the season on the active roster. Ramos missed much of last season with two surgeries to his knee.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Anthony Rendon hits fourth homer of spring in Nats’ 9-7 win over Astros

It may not be time yet to finalize your bet on when Anthony Rendon could join the Washington Nationals’ roster – but the 22-year-old gives cause to get excited about what the Nats have in store in the months ahead.

In Wednesday’s second split-squad game the Nats “B Team” had tied the Houston Astros, 5-5, by the time Rendon came to bat in the eighth inning off left-hander Dallas Keuchel with two outs. Rendon fell behind in the count, 0-2, after two called strikes, but rocketed the third pitch into right field for a two-run shot that scored Micah Owings and put the Nationals back in front 7-5. [Read more…]

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