Remade bullpen looks promising, but is it enough?

The Nationals bullpen, way back on July 30, 2019, was a mess. Sean Doolittle was beginning to show signs of fatigue from his excessive (but necessary) workload through the season's first four months. Fernando Rodney was his setup man and occasional fill-in closer. Wander Suero was pitching nearly every night. The rest of the unit included Tanner Rainey, Javy Guerra, Tony Sipp, Matt Grace and Michael Blazek.

So Mike Rizzo, as he has been forced to do more than once during his tenure as general manager, gave his bullpen a late July overhaul. He acquired three new arms (Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elías) and hoped the reinforcements would help stabilize things.

They did, sort of. Hudson was great and ultimately teamed up with Doolittle to pitch the bulk of the late innings during the postseason. But Strickland and Elías were either hurt, ineffective or both. The Nationals somehow won the World Series, but they did so by keeping everyone in the bullpen besides Hudson and Doolittle out of situations of consequence.

So as this winter commenced, Rizzo knew he needed to give the group another makeover. The key moves came over the last five days: the signing of reliable setup man Will Harris, then the re-signing of Hudson.

Doolittle-Bears-Down-Blue-WS-Sidebar.jpgPut Harris and Hudson with Doolittle and the Nationals probably have their best late-inning trio since the "Law Firm" bullpen of Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler shut down opponents late in the 2017 season. Now add the emerging Rainey and occasionally nasty Suero, plus healthy versions of Strickland and Elías, and one more arm from a group that includes Austin Voth, Erick Fedde, Kyle Finnegan and Guerra, and you've got a bullpen that might just turn into a strength instead of the glaring weakness it was throughout 2019.

The emphasis here is on "might." This is still far from a sure thing. Doolittle looked like his old self in October, but he still has to prove he can hold up physically over a full season. Harris has a five-year track record of reliability, but he's 35 having just signed a three-year deal. Hudson had better hope the brilliance he displayed last season was his new norm and not an anomaly after a bunch of erratic and sometimes unimpressive seasons with his previous clubs.

Rainey and Suero have plenty of promise but no track record. Strickland and Elías could return to pre-injury form, but neither is guaranteed to do that.

So what exactly do the Nationals have now? They have a promising bullpen. That's different than a great bullpen - or even a good one. But that could be the end result if everything comes together.

Maybe it leaves something to be desired. Maybe it still doesn't stack up with the top relief corps in baseball.

But when you consider what this bullpen looked like in late July, then how it somehow held together enough to win the World Series in late October, the eight-man group that's now in position to pitch come late March sure looks like a significant improvement.

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