State of Nationals bullpen at this point

We haven't talked much about the Nationals roster in the last two months, because the roster hasn't changed at all in the last two months. So it might be time for a refresher on the current state of things, because it's easy to forget what this team currently has in place for 2022 and what it still needs to address once everyone's allowed to address needs again.

Obviously, there will be an opportunity to add players as soon as the lockout ends, though it could be quite a mad rush by all 30 clubs to fill their most pressing holes before spring training begins. But if they were required to open camp only with what they already have in-house, what would the Nats look like?

We've already looked at a potential lineup and bench, plus the current rotation options. So we'll wrap things up today with a bullpen that needs to be a whole lot better than it was last year for this team to show any signs of improvement overall.

In the two months that followed the trade deadline - which saw Brad Hand and Daniel Hudson dealt away - Nationals relievers went a combined 5-22 (the fewest wins and the most losses in the majors) with a 5.71 ERA (third-worst), 1.61 WHIP (worst), 5.08 walks per nine innings (worst), 1.64 homers per nine innings (second-worst) and 18 blown saves (most).

Yeah, it was that bad.

baseballs-in-bin-sidebar.jpgAt the time the lockout began, they hadn't added any new established relievers from outside the organization. There are plenty still waiting to be signed once things get going again, but for now they must proceed with what they already have, hoping for improved performance and health from the three guys who would currently appear to represent manager Davey Martinez's late-inning options.

Tanner Rainey had a miserable 2021, but he actually finished on a high note. Over a stretch of six appearances that began with Triple-A Rochester and ended in D.C., he retired 17 consecutive batters, 15 via strikeout. He did so with a fastball that reached the upper 90s for the first time all year and a sharp-breaking slider that was reminiscent of his best outings in 2019-2020. If the Nats needed someone to close out a game today, Rainey would be their first choice.

Rainey's struggles and the departures of Hand and Hudson forced Kyle Finnegan into the closer role for most of the season's final two months. He handled it well for a while, converting nine of his first 10 save opportunities, but then wilted down the stretch. A career-high 68 appearances (22 more than he'd ever made at any level as a professional) certainly led to some September fatigue. It'll be up to Finnegan to learn how to manage his body and his arm so he can remain strong through the full 162-game slate this time around.

Back for the third and final season of the $24 million contract he signed after giving up Howie Kendrick's World Series-winning homer in October 2019, Will Harris remains a huge unknown. One of the most reliable relievers in baseball from 2015-19, he's made only 28 appearances for the Nationals, only eight last season before needing thoracic outlet surgery. He's 37 now, and truth be told, anything positive the club can get from him at this point is a bonus.

A host of less-experienced relievers got a chance to pitch a lot for the Nats last summer, none of them truly stepping up and establishing himself but a few of them showing glimpses of promise. Atop that list was Andres Machado, a 28-year-old rookie who generally acquitted himself well, even in some high-leverage spots. Mason Thompson, acquired from the Padres for Hudson, was more erratic and will need to develop more consistent command to earn a permanent spot in this bullpen.

Austin Voth made the transition from starter to reliever, and for a while early in the season looked like a nice find there. He, too, wore down during the second half of the year and will need to learn how to maintain his body and arm to find pitching success during the dog days.

Sam Clay, Patrick Murphy, Jhon Romero and Gabe Klobosits all made their Nationals debuts last season. All figure to get an opportunity to pitch for them again this season, the club hoping at least one of them develops into a regular contributor.

They also added one reliever to their 40-man roster before the lockout, claiming left-hander Francisco Pérez off waivers from Cleveland. The 24-year-old appeared in four big league games last season after producing a combined 1.77 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with 119 strikeouts across 81 1/3 minor league innings from 2019-21.

Although young, Nats farm restocked with position ...
Who's in Nats rotation at this point?

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