The Nationals are closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in Viera, Fla., as the team sizes up what they could have in a talented and deep relief corps for 2012.
New Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, the former Syracuse Chiefs manager, was pleased with the staff he worked with in Triple-A last season. He sees some of those pitchers, either already with the Nationals or close to it, possibly becoming permanent fixtures in the bullpen this upcoming campaign.
So who jumped out at Knorr as he looks back on 2011?
Once a starter, Knorr feels right-hander Craig Stammen has found a good place as a reliever.
"I have always liked Stammen," Knorr said. "I think his role is in the bullpen. He can come in there and get that ground ball and get you out of a jam. If he gets ahead of you, he does have the curve ball enough to punch you out."
Knorr had a lot of good things to say about left-handed reliever Doug Slaten, who he believes ranks among the best in the National League at his specialty.
"I know his year was shortened by injury, but I like Doug Slaten," Knorr said. "If you ask me, the three top lefties out of the bullpen in the National league are the Braves' Jonny Venters, the Cubs' Sean Marshall and Slaten. I think Slaten is great against lefties.
"I know he is a little older (32 years old prior to spring training) and he doesn't light up the radar gun, but I said it all year, I hadn't seen a lefty put a good swing on him yet.
"Of course, the second to last game of the year, he comes in and strikes out (the Marlins') Logan Morrison, and gets the righty out (John Buck). And then we are in a tie ball game, he throws (Bryan Petersen) a first-pitch fastball and he hits it out of the ball park. I said, 'Boy, that backfired on me.'
"But I see things that stand out with Slaten. When he came down (to Triple-A Syracuse) and pitched for us on rehab, I really never saw a lefty take a good swing off of him."
Another pitcher Knorr likes is right-hander Ryan Tatusko, who played this offseason in the Venezuelan winter league.
"The one I am waiting on is Tatusko," Knorr said. "He has movement on every pitch. If he can ever control the movement on his pitches, it (can be) electrifying. Everything moves, it is great. He has got a good breaking ball and sink on all his pitches. He might get it."
Knorr was also pleased with what he saw in right-hander Jeff Mandel. He believes the former Baylor Bear is getting closer thanks to his sinking fastball.
"I like Jeff Mandel," Knorr said. "He has a power sinker. He needs more tilt on his breaking ball. For some reason, we haven't got that yet. He does throw a change up now. His sinker ball is pretty true. He came up and pitched great for me last year."
Syracuse starters Tom Milone and Brad Peacock came up at the end of the year and pitched very well against major league hitters. Couple those results with the promising relievers the Chiefs offered, plus guys with major league experience like Stammen and Slaten, and it makes spring training that much more intriguing. It also gives general manager Mike Rizzo a few more chips on the table when teams come calling for trades.
The Nationals are getting closer each season to having a few of these hurlers surprise some people and make it out of Viera with a spot on the 25-man roster.