Bullpen has some holes but plenty of talent

As the start of spring training fast approaches, we're breaking down the state of the Nationals roster, position by position. The series continues today with the bullpen ...

This may come as a surprise, given how much angst there seems to be over the subject, but the Nationals had one of baseball's best bullpens last season. The unit ranked in the top five in the majors in ERA (3.37), WHIP (1.187), opponents' on-base percentage (.300) and opponents' OPS (.673).

So how come there's still so much angst entering 2017? Well, it probably stems from two indisputable facts about the current state of the Nationals bullpen: It lacks an experienced closer and it lacks experienced depth.

Those are two issues that still could be addressed before (or even during) spring training, but don't presume that means this relief corps is lacking in talent because there is a decent amount of it as currently constructed.

Shawn Kelley quietly was one of the majors' best setup men last season, with a 2.64 ERA, 0.897 WHIP and superb 80-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The 32-year-old was absolutely dominant against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .176/.203/.336 slash line thanks to his wipeout slider. He was plenty effective against lefties as well (.225/.279/.513), so it's not unreasonable to wonder if he can pitch the ninth inning. The biggest concern with Kelley: After two Tommy John surgeries, the Nationals were very cautious with his workload last season. He pitched on back-to-back days only 16 times, and on three consecutive days only once.

Blake-Treinen-throwing-white-sidebar.jpgAlso highly effective last season was Blake Treinen, who in his third big league season really came into his own. Owner of one of the hardest sinkers in the sport - it averages 95.5 mph and has topped out at 100 mph - the right-hander had a 2.28 ERA in 73 appearances and surrendered only 51 hits in 67 innings. The leader among all major league relievers with 17 induced double plays, Treinen is a valuable weapon to pitch out of tight jams no matter the inning, but his exceptional "stuff" makes him an intriguing option to close as well.

Sammy Solis got a taste of the majors in 2015 but really broke through last season, with a 2.41 ERA in 37 games. The 28-year-old lefty missed time with injuries, including shoulder inflammation in August and September, and he's still adapting to life as a full-time reliever and the toll that takes. But he certainly earned his manager's trust and should be counted upon as the team's top southpaw out of the bullpen.

Oliver Perez was supposed to be the most-trusted lefty of the group last year, but the veteran lived down to his reputation as one of the streakiest pitchers in the game. When he was good, he was very good, matching up for one or two batters and getting the job done. But when he was bad, he was very bad (during one prolonged stretch in late-summer, he retired only 14-of-32 batters faced).

The reliever with the most upside of the whole bunch might be Koda Glover, who sped through the farm system and surprisingly made his major league debut last summer. The 23-year-old has the stuff and appears to have the demeanor to pitch the ninth inning at this level, but that's an awful lot to ask of a guy with only 19 games of big league experience (not to mention only 15 games of Triple-A experience). The Nats also will monitor Glover closely this spring after it was discovered he tried to pitch through a partially torn labrum in his hip in September.

The Nationals have several other young relievers who will try to make an impression this spring. Trevor Gott was touted as a potential big piece of the puzzle when he was acquired from the Angels for Yunel Escobar, but the diminutive righty made only nine big league appearances late last season. Jimmy Cordero, acquired from the Phillies, has a triple-digit fastball but struggled in the minors last year after missing time with a shoulder injury.

Lefty Matt Grace has been given a few opportunities the last two seasons, as has right-hander Rafael Martin. Both remain on the club's 40-man roster and will be in camp this spring. Austin Adams, a 25-year-old right-hander with big strikeout numbers in the minors who was acquired from the Angels in the Danny Espinosa trade, also will be in camp on the 40-man roster trying to draw attention.

Then come a host of veterans invited to spring training on minor league contracts. Joe Nathan has 377 career saves, but he's 42 and coming off his second Tommy John surgery. Tim Collins, a former Royals lefty, also is attempting to return from a second major elbow surgery. Vance Worley could make the squad as the designated long reliever and emergency starter, filling the role held last year by Yusmeiro Petit. Matt Albers and Mike Broadway are two more right-handers with big league experience who will be competing in West Palm Beach.

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