Lookin’ at some lefties

General manager Mike Rizzo has admitted that he erred when he decided to put just one left-hander in the Nationals bullpen going into the start of the 2013 season.

Rizzo and the Nationals looked around for left-handed relievers last winter, but instead of adding a new face or retaining Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez or Tom Gorzelanny, they opted to break camp with starter-turned-reliever Zach Duke as their lone southpaw in the ‘pen.

That didn’t exactly work out as planned.

Duke pitched to an 8.71 ERA in his time as a National, and after he was released in mid-June, the Nats turned to a trio of less-experienced lefties - Fernando Abad, Ian Krol and Xavier Cedeno.

All three had stretches of effectiveness, but none were able to consistently get the job done at the big league level. Abad, Krol and Cedeno will likely all get a chance to compete for a roster spot in spring training, but don’t expect Rizzo to make the same mistake that he made last winter. He’ll likely be looking for an experienced, talented left-handed reliever to add to the bullpen this offseason, someone that new manager Matt Williams can rely on in a tough spot.

MLBTradeRumors.com has put together a list of the left-handed relievers available on the free agent market (with age in parentheses), and here’s what the Nationals will be looking at as they try and bolster their bullpen in that area:

Travis Blackley (31)
Scott Downs (38)
Mike Gonzalez (36)
Rich Hill (34)
J.P. Howell (31)
Boone Logan (29)
Javier Lopez (36)
Eric O’Flaherty (29)
Manny Parra (31)
Oliver Perez (32)
David Purcey (32)
Matt Thornton (37)

Of those names, the one that jumps out to me right away is Howell, a guy who the Nationals were interested in last offseason. They ended up not making a strong enough push for the former Rays southpaw, however, and Howell landed a $2.85 million deal with the Dodgers.

He went on to have a monster season in Los Angeles, posting a 2.03 ERA and 1.048 WHIP in 62 innings of work. Howell allowed just 6.1 hits per nine innings, had a solid 2.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and held lefties to a .167/.238/.237 slash line.

Yeah, the Nats probably could have used someone like that.

Could they push for Howell (and do so a little firmer this time) again this offseason? It’s certainly possible.

Of the other guys listed above, Lopez probably has the strongest track record, having posted a career 3.64 ERA and a 2.37 ERA in his last four seasons. Lopez has turned into a pure left-handed specialist, working a total of just 39 1/3 innings in his 69 appearances last season, but he dominated lefties, holding them to a .156/.208/.222 line in 2013.

O’Flaherty is an interesting name; he’s coming off Tommy John surgery in July and likely won’t be ready for major league action until the middle of the summer. But if the Nats are willing to gamble, he’s a guy that has a career 2.85 ERA in eight big league seasons and has posted a 1.094 WHIP over his last three years.

Gonzalez could be an option, as well, although he’s coming off a rough 2013 in which he posted a 4.68 ERA and 1.660 WHIP in 75 games with the Brewers. Not the numbers the popular southpaw wanted heading into free agency.

Regardless of who the Nats add to improve their left-handed relief corps, it’s clear they need to add someone. Abad, Krol and Cedeno could be options in addition to an established, left-handed reliever, but they don’t appear to be the answer in and of themselves. Rizzo will look to bring in a southpaw, likely from the free agent market, and he’ll have a host of options from which to choose.

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