Nats have three final decisions to make before opening day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals have wrapped up the home portion of their spring training schedule, with only two road games left on the docket before they leave Florida: Today against the Cardinals in Jupiter (note the early 12:05 p.m. start) and Thursday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers.

They still have some things to sort out, though, before heading north for good. So let's run through those final decisions ...

You've heard everything you need to hear about this by now. There's not much left that can be said, except that the organization needs to come to a consensus on whether to name Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen or Koda Glover their ninth-inning guy.

Dusty Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and general manager Mike Rizzo met last night after the team's 4-2 loss to the Marlins, so perhaps at long last a choice was made. There does seem to have been some legitimate debate here, though.

And it is a fascinating question, with reasons to pick any one of three and reasons not to pick any one of the three.

Koda-Glover-throw-gray-sidebar.jpgThe sense here is that the real debate is whether they want to throw Glover to the wolves yet. Everyone agrees the 24-year-old is going to be this team's closer at some point. There's not as much agreement whether it's in everyone's best interests to put him in the role now or ease him into it.

The last thing anyone wants to do is name Glover the closer, then have to decide what to do if he blows a couple of save opportunities in April. Baker has said no matter who his closer is, he won't have a short leash. But that's easy to say in late March. If the closer is struggling and the team is sluggish out of the gates, how much leash can they afford to have? Nobody wants a repeat of 2015 around here.

Then again, there are reasons not to pick either alternative, either. Baker seems particularly concerned about overworking Kelley, not wanting to pitch him on back-to-back days too often given his injury history. (Here's a thought: Let Glover close on the nights Kelley needs a break, giving the kid a chance to break in without having all of the pressure of being the designated closer.)

Treinen, meanwhile, is highly effective, but there's still a sense he's most valuable as a fireman who can enter in any inning when the team's in a jam and induce a big double play.

This is kind of tied into the closer debate, because if Glover makes the team (no matter his role), there doesn't appear to be room for a true long reliever.

Figure Kelley, Treinen, Joe Blanton, Sammy Solís, Oliver Pérez and Enny Romero all make the bullpen. The first three are obvious. Solís was very good last year when healthy. Pérez is guaranteed $4 million this year. And Romero is out of options and has too good an arm to slip through waivers unclaimed.

So that leaves only one more bullpen spot. If it goes to Glover, there's no spot for a long man (unless the team carries eight relievers and only four bench players, more on that in a moment).

The Nats signed Vance Worley to a minor league deal over the winter because he looked like an obvious candidate to hold the Yusmeiro Petit role, but Worley has been hit-or-miss this spring. Jeremy Guthrie, meanwhile, has looked much better than anyone could have expected, with a 2.41 ERA capped by last night's four-inning, one-run relief appearance.

Do the Nats need a long man? If all the starters are healthy and able to go five or six innings every night, no. But keep in mind that Max Scherzer has had an abbreviated spring, Tanner Roark was gone for 2 1/2 weeks while at the World Baseball Classic, Stephen Strasburg ended last season on the disabled list, Joe Ross spent 2 1/2 months on the DL last season and Gio Gonzalez failed to reach the sixth inning in 31 percent of his starts.

It might be worth it, at least to begin the season.

When Clint Robinson departed yesterday, having been placed on waivers, the Nationals' final spot on the bench essentially came down to Michael A. Taylor or Wilmer Difo.

The case for Taylor: He's an outfielder who can give Adam Eaton days off and not force Baker to play Chris Heisey, Bryce Harper or Trea Turner in center field. He's looked great this spring, hitting .372.

The case against Taylor: We've seen him look great in spring training before, only to struggle when the bright lights come on. He also seems to be best when he's getting regular playing time, not coming off the bench.

The case for Difo: He's a switch-hitter who can bounce around to multiple positions, including possibly center field (where he got a look this spring). He's also had a very good spring, hitting .294. His speed would be a nice asset off the bench.

The case against Difo: He's not really an outfielder, so that would leave the Nats without a true backup center fielder behind Eaton. He's still highly thought of within the organization as a prospect, which means he might benefit more from playing every day at Triple-A than playing sporadically in the big leagues, especially with Stephen Drew already locked in as the primary backup infielder.

The case against carrying either guy: If the Nats think they can get by with only a four-man bench, they could decide to keep Worley or Guthrie as a long reliever and still keep Glover in an eight-man bullpen. Baker and Rizzo have suggested they prefer a seven-man bullpen, but you never know how minds can change during the final days of spring training.

Starting lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in Jupiter
Turner, Guthrie make final cases to make pitching ...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to