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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.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 21, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
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Is this coming from Riggleman?? I see Stammen way over Burnett. Both he and Capps have not performed as expected this spring. My guess is that Burnett gets DFA'ed and replaced by English. Bruney looks to be Capps replacement. Stammen will probably end up starting if Mock falters. Battista and Hernandez are probably both over 40. Makes no sense unless they feel the younger guys need more seasoning. I expect they will keep 1 of the 2 to act as a mentor. The other goes to Syracuse. Martin possibly replacing Olsen who definitely needs to work on strengthening that shoulder down in the minors.

Posted by: periculum | March 21, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

English is doing a good job of pitching himself into contention for a 25-man spot, imo. He's come into games with men on base multiple times, and is only 2 of 8 in inherited-runners-allowed. Tack on 5K's, 0BB & 2-for-2 in saves, and that's a solid resume' to-date. Plus, he's left-handed, which is a good thing, given Burnett's struggles to-date.

Posted by: BinM | March 21, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

I just don't see Burnett being DFA'd.


Posted by: kevincostello | March 21, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Since the Nationals have a couple of off days early in the season, Riggleman may go north with only 11 pitchers (4SP, 7RP). If that assumption is correct, then there are probably only 6 slots available...

SP (2/4) = Lannan, Marquis, ??, ??. Contenders = (2/4+) Martin, Mock, Olsen, Stammen; Hernandez [NRI].

RP (3/7) = Bruney, Clippard, Capps, ??, ??, ??, ??.
Contenders = (4/5+) Bergmann, Burnett, English, Walker; Batista [NRI]; Stammen (from SP group).

It's too close to make the call for most of these slots with two weeks left, imo. My 'gut opinion' right now leads me to Hernandez & Mock as SP's, and Bergmann, Burnett, English & Stammen as RP's.

Posted by: BinM | March 21, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Burnett's not going to get DFA'd. He made 71 appearances in the majors last year, with a 3.12 ERA, a WHIP of 1.11. They are not going to give up on him in March.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 21, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Bin, I think you're right on, with Hernandez and Mock and Bergmann and Burnett. The last 2 RP spots? I got no clue.

And the RF and SS mess may make having a 6 player bench more appealing during the first couple weeks of April. Plus, something tells me they are not going to want to play TPlush when it's cold, damp and wet.
So yeah, I think coming north with 11 pitchers is a real possibility.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 21, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

The bottom line...there is still a lot of doo doo in the bullpen and in the rotation. I truly hope some guys are under performing because it is ST however, I'm very disappointed thus far with the pitching. After last year it should have been priority one and all we got is friggin' lip service, Jason Marquis and Matt Capps.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 21, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I think Rizzo wants to see Walker make the team so as long as he pitches well the rest of the way I think he is in.

English has never pitched above AA and Rizzo does not seem to like to rush players the way Jimbo did so I see him starting in AA as Storen's set-up men giving us a very strong 8-9 combo in harrisburg.

That leaves the long relieving spot, my guess is Stammen unless Riggs thinks Batista's veteran presence is worth it.

Enjoy syracuse JD Martin.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 21, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Some kind of weak pen, whoever gets penciled in.

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 21, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Having just gone back far enough (Adam's incredible post pace makes it joyfully hard!) to participate in the poll, it seems like this neighborhood has about 500 or so regulars. (I'm sure nobody would be so dishonest to vote/post more than once under different sign-ins, right???)

Why is it I keep thinking of this?:

"Into the valley of death rode the 500.''

My Terps' loss has me in a funk.

Posted by: nats24 | March 22, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

BERGMANN looked awful yesterday how does he keep getting under the radar screen and worming his way onto the roster? He would make a great batting practice pitcher in the bigs!!!! Check the books look at his lifetime ERA ouch!!! Right near 5.

Posted by: KGG769 | March 22, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

nats24, fwiw (which is not much), I'm pretty sure that I qualify as a regular, but I never got around to voting in the poll.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 22, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

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