Williams on Treinen’s future, the rotation battle and a possible third lefty in the ‘pen

JUPITER, Fla. - The Nationals reassigned Blake Treinen to minor league camp today, ending a lengthy and impressive stint in big league camp for the right-hander.

Acquired last offseason in the Michael Morse trade, Treinen was coming off a mediocre 2012 season at high Single-A. In a little over a year, he has turned into a valuable, up-and-coming prospect who wowed scouts and talent evaluators this spring, and a guy who manager Matt Williams sees helping the Nats in the not-too-distant future.

“He’s just an exceptional young man,” Williams said. “We let him know that he is our next wave, if you will. He proved everything that he had to prove this spring to us. We’re all certainly pleasantly surprised with his progress and the way he threw the baseball.”

The Nats plan to stretch Treinen out a little bit down in the minors, but aren’t sure if he’ll begin the season as a starter or a reliever. It appears more likely, however, that he first makes an impact on the big league level working out of the bullpen.

“His stuff plays at any point later in a game,” Williams said. “It’s a bowling ball at 97 (mph). That’s all good. We have some depth, certainly, in the starting roles, so he may be able to help us in the bullpen, as well. And we asked him the question this morning - he likes the bullpen, as well.”

With Treinen out of the picture for now, that leaves four pitchers - in theory - competing for the final spot in the bullpen: righties Tanner Roark and Aaron Barrett and lefties Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez.

This morning, I laid out the circumstances in which Roark could end up in the bullpen. Barrett could certainly be the guy if Roark wins the final rotation spot. But what about the lefties?

Because he was signed as an Article XX(B) free agent (he has accrued at least six years of major league service time and is not under contract for next season) Gonzalez can opt out of his contract on Thursday if he’s not put on the Nats’ big league roster, and Cedeno has been strong against left-handed hitters in the past. Is there a chance that one of those two guys makes the opening day bullpen? Williams won’t offer specifics on his thinking, but he laid out general terms in which the Nats could consider taking a third left-hander in the bullpen, along with Ross Detwiler and Jerry Blevins.

“It depends on how we feel like we can best construct the lineup and the bullpen moving into opening day,” Williams said. “We know who we’re facing the first 15 games of the season, and it’s all within the division. Certainly, looking at those teams, the Braves are heavy (on) left-handed (hitters), the Mets are heavy left-handed. So I think the decision comes down to more of a situational type lefty potentially as a third lefty. ... That’s why those guys are still here. We’re still contemplating those potentials.

“Do we feel comfortable with two (lefties), or do we feel more comfortable with three? And we continue to evaluate that.”

Cedeno has held lefties to a .231/.320/.308 slash line over his big league career, but he dominated left-handed hitters down the stretch last season. Gonzalez, meanwhile, allowed lefties to hit .274/.336/.443 off him last season with the Brewers.

Finally, Williams said that while there isn’t much that Roark or Taylor Jordan could do in their final spring starts to sway his decision on who will win the final rotation spot, the skipper has yet to settle on who will be the guy.

Roark allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings in his spring finale yesterday, while Jordan is on the mound this afternoon against the Marlins.

“It’s still fluid right now,” Williams said. “We’ll make that decision when it’s appropriate, but as of right now, my mind is not made up.”

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