Jesse English, your bullpen darkhorse
Jesse English has never pitched above Class AA. Last year at this time, he had already been sent to the San Francisco Giants' minor league side of camp; he lasted two weeks with the major league camp as little more than a spare body. Despite his nondescript history, English all of a sudden has a chance to pitch for the Nationals in his first year with them.
"He's putting himself in the mix to make the team," Manager Riggleman said.
English today registered his second save of the spring after entering a situation engineered for him. Riggleman brought him into the game in the ninth inning with one out and a man on second. He allowed a bloop single, then retired the final two batters of the game. English struck out Hector Luna and induced a high chopper from Emilio Bonifacio, which he handled himself.
The throw he made revealed the poise that's helped English make an impression. Few runners are faster than Bonifacio. With the tying run on first, English realized a bad throw could be disastrous. Rather than rush, he told himself to make a sure throw. If he was safe, too bad. English got Bonifacio by a step anyway.
This spring, English has struck out five in 3 1/3 innings while walking none. He's got a nice three-pitch mix but uses mostly fastballs and, his best pitch, sliders. He landed with the Nationals in part because the team believed he had a special talent as a reliever that had been under-utilized with the Giants. In seven years in their system, he appeared in 120 games, 69 as a starter. The Nationals have ditched the starting portion and, "You always pitch better when you know what your role is," English said.
And now, he may a shot to crack the Nationals bullpen. Right now, it seems safe to pencil these five into the bullpen:
1. Matt Capps
2. Brian Bruney
3. Sean Burnett
4. Tyler Clippard
5. Jason Bergmann
That leaves two spots between Tyler Walker, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen, Miguel Batista and English. Martin, Stammen and Batista are also potentially competing for starting spots. (It would qualify as a stunner if Batista actually landed one of those starting spots.) Things have been pretty smooth for Walker in last two outings, but he also has a 19.06 ERA this spring.
So English has a chance, something you couldn't see coming at the start of the spring.
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