Another option to consider in the late innings

When discussing possible in-house replacements for Tyler Clippard in the eighth-inning role, the names of Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen have been thrown around by myself and others.

Both are young and still relatively inexperienced at the big league level, but both have shown promise in their limited major league action.

There's a far more experienced option in the organization that we haven't talked much about since the trade that sent Clippard to the A's, however.

That option is Matt Thornton.

Acquired by the Nationals in a waiver claim in August, Thornton is now 38, but he still has proven to be quite effective this deep into his career.

The hard-throwing Thornton posted a 1.75 ERA in 64 games last season, including 18 scoreless appearances with the Nats. The left-hander had a strong 1.139 WHIP and struck out 28 to just eight walks in 36 innings. (He did allow one earned run in 2 1/3 innings of work in the postseason.)

What you'll notice in those numbers there is that despite Thornton making 64 appearances in the 2014 regular season, he didn't rack up many innings of work. He averaged just 2.5 batters faced per appearance, largely because he was often used as a lefty specialist.

Thornton fares well against lefties; he held them to a .250/.307/.263 slash line last season. But he also has held righties in check pretty effectively, as well, as right-handed hitters put up just a .236/.306/.327 line against him in 2014.

That can't really be considered much of a fluke, either, although it is slightly better than the career slash line of .241/.324/.359 that righties have against Thornton.

In other words, while Thornton has shown that he's a weapon late in games against tough left-handed hitters, he can be more than just a lefty specialist.

Yes, Thornton is statistically better against lefties than righties in his career, and had the Clippard trade not come together, the Nats could have ideally still used the veteran southpaw as a set-up guy in the sixth or seventh inning, as a tough matchup for any left-handed hitter and a bridge to the back-end relievers they had in place.

But with Clippard gone, Thornton could evolve into more of a full-inning set-up man in front of closer Drew Storen.

A big spring ahead for Taylor
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