Nats take a shot on veteran lefty Avilan with minor league deal

If Major League Baseball reverses course and puts an end to the three-batter-minimum rule it instituted for pitchers this season, Luis Avilan might prove to be a savvy addition for the Nationals in 2021.

There's been no indication MLB intends to do that, however, so the challenge for Avilan to be a successful reliever for the Nats will be immense.

The Nationals signed the 31-year-old left-hander to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training Monday night, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. Avilan will report to West Palm Beach along with dozens of other pitchers in mid-February (we hope) and attempt to make the opening day roster in a position of significant need for the Nats.

Trouble is, the Nationals can't afford to carry a lefty reliever who can't get right-handed hitters out. And unfortunately that's been a major problem area for Avilan in recent years.

Avilan-Throws-Yankees-Sidebar.jpgThe good news: Avilan has been excellent against left-handed hitters for a long time. Over a nine-year career with six clubs, he's held them to a .203 batting average and .280 on-base percentage. He's been even better the last two seasons with the Mets and Yankees, holding lefties to a paltry .121 batting average and .194 on-base percentage.

But lefty specialists are going the way of the dodo these days. Everybody's got to be able to get hitters from both sides of the plate out under MLB's new rules, and Avilan has struggled mightily in that department.

Over his career, righties have hit .261 with a .344 on-base percentage against Avilan, but things have gotten drastically worse the last two seasons. In 2019-20 combined, they hit a whopping .370 with a .463 on-base percentage.

So the Nationals won't enter 2021 counting on Avilan to fill an important void in their bullpen. For now, they only have four left-handers on their 40-man roster: starter Patrick Corbin, starting prospects Seth Romero and Ben Braymer, and recently acquired 27-year-old rookie Sam Clay.

Free agent options include Brad Hand, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Aaron Loup and the potential re-signing of Sean Doolittle.

Avilan's deal with the Nationals was first reported by Venezuelan sports reporter Efrain Zavarce.

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