Taking stock of the Nationals bullpen
When the Nationals released Ron Villone on Monday, they made it slightly easier to envision the ultimate makeup of their bullpen. "I think it's beginning to come into focus, the bullpen and roles," general manager Mike Rizzo said.
But there's still some ironing out to be done. First, here are the remaining relievers, split into four groups as I see it:
NOT LONG FOR CAMP
1. Luis Atilano
1. Brian Bruney
2. Matt Capps
3. Tyler Clippard
4. Sean Burnett
5. Jason Bergmann
1. Miguel Batista (also may be a starter)
2. Jesse English
3. Doug Slaten
4. Craig Stammen (also may be a starter)
5. J.D. Martin (also may be a starter)
6. Tyler Walker
7. Drew Storen
Bergmann is listed as "likely on" because Manager Jim Riggleman on Monday listed Capps, Bruney, Clippard and Bergmann as relievers the Nationals could count on. "They come in having to lose the job," Riggleman said. Also, Bergmann is a known commodity -- and he's out of options.
Riggleman also contributed to the growing body of evidence that Storen has a shot to make the team, saying "Storen is making a case for himself."
The Nationals are content for now with the left-handers they have. Joe Beimel, whom the Nationals signed last year on March 18 and traded later in the season, is available as a free agent and apparently in demand. The Mets reportedly offered him a contract earlier this spring and, according to his agent, Joe Sroba, two new teams expressed interest in him late last week. "He'll be patient for the right deal," Sroba said.
The Nationals are not one of those interested teams, and they have had no discussions with Beimel, according to a source. They're not in the market for a lefty for two main reasons: First, right-hander Tyler Clippard is a left-handed specialist in disguise; lefties hit .122 off of him last year. Second, Rizzo is high on Doug Slaten and Jesse English after watching them this spring. (Rizzo didn't mention him, but you can add Atahualpa Severino, sent down Monday, into that mix as well for the future.)
Both Slaten and English will likely start the year in the minors, with Slaten having the better shot to crack the Opening Day roster. But Rizzo sees both of them as possibilities to contribute to the Nationals at some point this season. Their presence, Rizzo said, helped convince him to let go both Villone and Eddie Guardado. (He also said "there was not a lot coming out of their arms.")
The Nationals acquired English on waivers from the San Francisco Giants in September. He has never pitched above Class AA. But they believed he had never been given one role -- he's made 120 appearances, 69 as a starter and 51 out of the bullpen -- and that as a reliever, he could be an effective pitcher.
"We've done the splits, and his splits as a reliever are off the charts," Rizzo said. "He comes at you at a good left-handed angle. He's got a good breaking pitch and a firm fastball. And he can throw both for strikes. We think that he's a guy that certainly could be one of the two lefties in the bullpen at some time in the future."
For the present, this is my best guess at the bullpen the Nationals will head north with:
1. Matt Capps
2. Brian Bruney
3. Sean Burnett
4. Tyler Clippard
5. Jason Bergmann
6. Miguel Batista
7. Drew Storen
Yeah, I'm going with Storen. He's been that good, and the Nationals seem to be more and more publicly willing to concede he could make the team.
While Capps is the favorite to start the year as the closer, Rizzo made clear that might be up for competition, too. "Certainly, there will be several spots in the bullpen that are still going to be competed for," Rizzo said. "More important than that, roles in the bullpen are still being competed for."
So the bullpen is coming together, but it's far from finalized.
March 15, 2010; 7:29 PM ET
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