With the Nationals' lack of depth when it comes to left-handed relief, Xavier Cedeno was already going to be someone to watch in spring training given the way he performed at the big league level down the stretch last season.
But after spending the bulk of this offseason pitching for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican winter league, Cedeno looks like even more of an intriguing option as we sit just five weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Viera, Fla.
Cedeno posted an 0-2 record during his winter ball stint this offseason, but I really hope there aren't people out there who still use a reliever's record as an indicator of how effective he's been. Look deeper into how Cedeno pitched, and the numbers show he did some solid work down in Puerto Rico.
The 27-year-old left-hander pitched to a 2.49 ERA in 19 games, spanning 21 2/3 innings. He allowed just 11 hits, struck out a whopping 36 batters with just seven walks (that's a stellar 5.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, for those who didn't feel like doing some early morning math) and posted a 0.83 WHIP.
Cedeno held opponents to a .145 batting average and had a 1.82 ground out-to-air out ratio.
Sure, the level of competition in some of these winter leagues isn't near what we see in the states from April to September, but the Nats have to like seeing Cedeno continue to have success after an impressive final month in the majors in 2013.
Cedeno was claimed off waivers from the Astros in late April after allowing 11 runs and 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings with Houston, and he spent much of the rest of the 2013 season at Triple-A Syracuse, where he put up a 1.31 ERA in 39 games. The southpaw was called up to the majors numerous times to serve as insurance in case the Nats needed an extra arm in the bullpen, but those brief stints in the big leagues often ended without Cedeno seeing any action. He made just two appearances with the Nats prior to his September call-up when rosters expanded.
In September, however, Cedeno got a shot to show what he could do, and he delivered. He appeared in nine games, allowing one run on four hits in 4 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking zero.
Over his final eight appearances of the season, Cedeno allowed just two baserunners in 4 1/3 innings and kept five of the six baserunners he inherited from scoring.
Currently, the Nationals only have one left-hander ticketed for the bullpen in 2014, and that's Jerry Blevins, who was acquired in December in a trade with the Athletics. Manager Matt Williams has said that he ideally would like to have two southpaws in his 'pen, one of whom can work multiple innings, if necessary.
Cedeno has typically been more of a matchup lefty and has terrible career splits against right-handed hitters (.356/.427/.552, compared to .231/.320/.308 against left-handed hitters). But he held righties to a .127 average with 26 strikeouts and seven walks during his winter ball action this offseason, compared to lefties hitting .190 with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
If Williams is determined to have two left-handers in the bullpen, Cedeno currently seems to have the inside track for the spot alongside Blevins. And his time in winter ball might help him enter spring primed to earn that job.