Finnegan not concerned about specific role in Nats bullpen

Kyle Finnegan throw gray Mothers Day cap

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Finnegan has come a long way in three seasons with the Nationals since signing a major league contract as a minor league free agent in December 2019.

The 31-year-old went from unknown rookie who flashed impressive stuff in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to trusted reliever who fizzled out late in 2021 to de facto closer in his first complete major league season in 2022.

Now entering his fourth season with the club, the right-hander isn’t too concerned about his role in the Nationals bullpen. He just knows he’ll make most of his appearances in the later innings.

“Back end of the bullpen, which you know is up for hot hand-type situations,” Finnegan said of his role this season. “I was told I'll get some chances back there, but we also have so many good guys that we can play matchups a little bit and bring guys in in different situations. So I think kind of building off last year, we've got a lot of guys that are feeling confident and having success. Having too many guys is always a good thing.”

Too many guys is a good thing, especially when the inevitable injury bug hits that part of the roster, as was the case last year when Sean Doolittle and Tanner Rainey went down in the first couple of months with season-ending injuries.

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Is there room for Colomé in crowded Nats bullpen?

Mason Thompson throwing gray

In some respects, the Nationals’ signing of veteran reliever Alex Colomé to a minor league deal Friday makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t this team take a chance on a 34-year-old with 159 saves and a 3.34 ERA over 446 career big league appearances, especially on a contract that won’t cost them anything unless he makes the club out of spring training?

But will he actually make the club? Is there room for Colomé in a bullpen that already looked plenty deep on paper prior to his signing?

The unquestioned strength of the Nationals during a dismal 2022 season, the bullpen returns almost entirely intact in 2023. Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr. and Hunter Harvey all avoided arbitration and agreed to affordable one-year deals. Erasmo Ramirez, so valuable last season as a jack of all trades, re-signed for a guaranteed $1 million, with the possibility of earning another $1 million in incentives.

Mason Thompson, who impressed in limited big league time last season, is back and should be given a good look as a potential long-term piece. Thad Ward, the top pick in the Rule 5 draft, has to make the team and stay in the majors or else be offered back to the Red Sox. And conventional wisdom suggests the Nats will keep either Paolo Espino or Cory Abbott as a long reliever and emergency starter.

So that’s seven spots right there, and we haven’t even mentioned Sean Doolittle, attempting to return from an elbow procedure and serve as the only left-hander in the 'pen. Or Victor Arano and Jordan Weems, who seemingly are in the mix but are likely saddled by the fact each still has minor league options.

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Nats add veteran reliever Colomé on minor league deal

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The Nationals added another experienced reliever this afternoon to what already looked like a deep bullpen, signing veteran right-hander Alex Colomé to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp.

Colomé, 34, isn’t guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster and will have to prove himself during spring training. But his lengthy track record as a late-inning reliever should give him a leg up over others trying to break camp with the club.

The Nationals have long been intrigued by Colomé, his name having come up several times in the past when they were searching for late-inning help at the trade deadline. Only now, on the heels of back-to-back rough seasons with the Twins and Rockies, is he finally joining the club.

Owner of 159 career saves, Colomé was an All-Star with a 1.91 ERA in 2016 and closed out 47 games for the Rays in 2017, leading the league.

Traded the following year to the Mariners – along with former Nationals center fielder Denard Span – he continued to enjoy success in Seattle and then in Chicago with the White Sox. At the end of the 2020 season, he sported a 2.95 ERA and 1.177 WHIP across 326 big league appearances.

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Will a unit that was a real strength in 2022 be that again for Birds?

Cionel Perez throwing black

It was a real strength of the much-improved 2022 Orioles – the Baltimore bullpen. Will it be a team strength again this year? It will likely need to be for the Orioles to keeping trending upward toward an American League playoff berth.

In 2021, the O’s bullpen ERA of 5.70 ranked last in the majors. The final season bullpen ERA of 3.49 from last year ranked as seventh-best in the American League and ninth-best in MLB.

On Aug. 16, the Baltimore bullpen ERA of 3.05 was among the best in the majors. That would not hold up and there was some falloff late in the season. But the final mark was over two runs better than the previous season.  

That can help a team improve from 110 losses to 79.

Bullpen pitchers can be volatile in performance with much variation from year-to-year. Lefty Cionel Pérez, who pitched to an ERA of 1.40 averaging 3.3 walks per game with the Orioles, had an ERA of 6.04 and allowed 6.2 walks per nine innings over 50 2/3 innings in parts of season between 2018 and 2021.

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Source: Ramirez close to returning on one-year deal

ramirez pitching gray

The Nationals are close to finalizing a deal to bring Erasmo Ramirez back for the 2023 season, re-signing an invaluable member of this season’s pitching staff.

There remain a few more details to sort out before the deal is announced, including the removal of someone else from the club’s 40-man roster to open a slot, but a source confirmed the two sides are close and it should be finalized within a few days. The one-year contract would pay Ramirez as much as $2 million if he meets all incentives, according to The New York Post’s Jon Heyman.

Of the Nationals players who became free agents at season’s end, Ramirez looked the most likely to return, given his importance to the pitching staff and modest contract demands. It took a few months, but the sides appear on the verge of a deal that should be a boost to an already deep bullpen.

Though his work was often unheralded, Ramirez was a critical part of the Nats pitching staff this season, a jack of all trades who finished with a 2.92 ERA and 1.077 WHIP over a hefty 86 1/3 innings. He was one of only three major league relievers – along with the Rangers’ Brock Burke and the Angels’ Jaime Barria – to post an ERA under 3.00 while pitching at least 75 innings.

Originally signed to a minor league deal, Ramirez didn’t make the Opening Day roster. The Nationals called up the 32-year-old from Triple-A Rochester only two weeks into the season, though, and he never went back.

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Bullpen will try to overcome losses of Doolittle, Harvey

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Davey Martinez knew this might happen. He’d been through a condensed, three-week spring training in 1995 following the end of the players’ strike, and he remembered the physical damage that caused, on pitchers in particular, once the season began later than originally planned.

So the last thing Martinez is right now is surprised. He had a hunch some pitchers wouldn’t be ready for the regular season grind after the short camp. And wouldn’t you know what happened?

First it was right-hander Mason Thompson, who landed on the 10-day injured list April 10 with biceps tendinitis. Then came the back-to-back blows this week: Sean Doolittle, who sprained his left elbow ligament, followed by Hunter Harvey, who has a pronator strain in his right forearm.

“When I went through this as a player in ’95, (for) a lot of these pitchers, April was pretty strenuous,” Martinez said. “I don’t know if it’s anything related to the short spring training, but you’ve got to look at (that), trying to ramp these guys up. That being said, this is the reason we tried to have so many different options, in case something like this would happen.”

Thompson pitched twice in the season’s first three days before he was placed on the IL. Doolittle pitched in six of the Nats’ first 12 games before telling club officials about the elbow pain that was growing worse. And Harvey, who pitched four times in 10 days after he was called up from Triple-A Rochester, reported physical issues following Wednesday night’s game. By Thursday afternoon, he joined the others on the IL.

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State of Nationals bullpen at this point

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...
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Bullpen improvement must come both from within and from outside

Bullpen improvement must come both from within and from outside
Stability has never been a hallmark of the Nationals bullpen. Truth be told, it's rarely a hallmark of any club's bullpen, given the inherent instability of the position. But the Nats took this longstanding theme to new (and often painful) levels in 2021. For only the third time in team history, Nationals relievers finished a season with a collective ERA north of 5.00, joining the 103-loss 2009 group and the tightrope-walking 2019 unit that managed to get it together just in time to win in...
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Lefty Nolin promoted from Triple-A, struggling Clay optioned

Lefty Nolin promoted from Triple-A, struggling Clay optioned
Looking for more pitchers who can provide innings during the 24 innings of baseball on tap over the next 24 hours, the Nationals promoted left-hander Sean Nolin from Triple-A today, optioning reliever Sam Clay to Rochester in the process. Nolin, 31, is on a big league roster for the first time since 2015, when he started six games for the Athletics. After bouncing between the minor leagues, independent ball and even Japan in the ensuing years, he wound up in the Nationals organization this...
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Suero activated, Espino optioned to Rochester

Suero activated, Espino optioned to Rochester
The Nationals have activated Wander Suero from the 10-day injured list and will have their workhorse reliever available for tonight's game against the Phillies. To clear space on their active roster for Suero, the Nats optioned veteran right-hander Paolo Espino to Triple-A Rochester. Suero, who had been out since April 18 with a left oblique strain, was cleared to return three days after a one-appearance rehab assignment for Rochester. Starting the game against Lehigh Valley, he gave up two...
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Bullpen's perfect streak ends at 29 batters

Bullpen's perfect streak ends at 29 batters
The pitch from Kyle Finnegan, a 3-2 sinker to Gary Sánchez in the bottom of the seventh that appeared to split the outer edge of the superimposed strike zone on your TV screen, was called a ball by Carlos Torres. Sánchez trotted to first base, and nobody at Yankee Stadium thought much of his one-out walk during Friday night's game against the Nationals. If you've been watching closely this week, though, you understood the significance of that borderline call. And why it produced...
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Bullpen proving to be Nats' most reliable unit early in season

Bullpen proving to be Nats' most reliable unit early in season
It's been a while since the Nationals opened a season with a reliable bullpen. How long? Try five years. Way back in 2016, if anyone can remember ancient history, Dusty Baker's relief corps enjoyed a dominant April. That group ended the season's opening month with a 2.53 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, led by Jonathan Papelbon's eight saves, Shawn Kelley's 0.00 ERA and contributions from the likes of Blake Treinen, Matt Belisle, Oliver Pérez and Yusmeiro Petit. Yeah, things have changed just a bit...
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Injuries in 'pen could create chances for Clay, McGowin

Injuries in 'pen could create chances for Clay, McGowin
Back when the Nationals broke spring training and headed north, the bullpen looked like a definite strength. The addition of closer Brad Hand set the Nats up for a lockdown back end, and guys like Wander Suero and Kyle Finnegan backed up the high-leverage relievers with the potential to pitch multiple innings in middle relief. Now, barely two weeks into the season, the bullpen is growing shakier by the day. Right-hander Will Harris hit the injured list with what was thought to be a blood clot,...
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Whether opening or closing, Avilán wants chance to help Nats

Whether opening or closing, Avilán wants chance to help Nats
Luis Avilán has made 454 big league appearances since 2012, plus another 48 in the minors. All have come in relief. He hasn't started a game since he was a 22-year-old Braves prospect at Double-A, nearly a decade ago. So when the veteran left-hander took the mound for the bottom of the first Thursday night at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., he immediately realized something looked different. "It was just a little weird, just for the fact that, just the first inning, the...
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Nationals adding another accomplished reliever in Jeffress

Nationals adding another accomplished reliever in Jeffress
A Nationals bullpen that already looked deep on paper could be getting a boost from another experienced arm: right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, who has agreed to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp, manager Davey Martinez confirmed this afternoon. "He's got to come in, take his intake test, take a physical and then we'll know more after that," Martinez said from West Palm Beach, Fla., during his daily Zoom session with reporters. "But if everything goes well, I'm excited...
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Class off the field, Doolittle was critical to Nats' on-field success

Class off the field, Doolittle was critical to Nats' on-field success
Because his final year-plus was beset by injuries and inconsistent performances on the mound, we might tend to forget just how great Sean Doolittle was for the majority of his Nationals career. Make no mistake: Doolittle not only was the anchor of the Nats bullpen, but one of the most dominant relievers in baseball for a prolonged stretch. The left-hander made his Nationals debut July 18, 2017. From that moment through May 15, 2019 - just before the first of his multiple meltdowns against the...
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Newly signed Hand comfortable with any late-inning role

Newly signed Hand comfortable with any late-inning role
Though he was the consensus best reliever available on the free agent market this winter, Brad Hand spent 2 1/2 months waiting to learn where he would pitch in 2021. Chalk it up to this most unusual offseason across baseball, and it's understandable, though no less nerve-wracking for the players involved. Early in the process, though, Hand knew the Nationals were among the teams interested in him. And over the last couple of weeks, he said, they stepped up their efforts before finally sealing...
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With four late-inning arms, Nats have plenty of relief options

With four late-inning arms, Nats have plenty of relief options
A few national baseball writers referred to Brad Hand as the Nationals' "new closer" upon reporting his contract agreement Sunday night. Don't be so sure about that. Though Hand certainly is going to end up closing some games for the Nats this season, that's not technically the role the club has in mind for him. It's safe to say Davey Martinez will use Hand whenever the matchup is in his favor, whether that comes in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. Some managers and some teams think...
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Nationals bolster bullpen with top available lefty Hand

Nationals bolster bullpen with top available lefty Hand
The Nationals have known all winter they needed an experienced left-hander for their bullpen, someone who could be counted upon to get big outs late in games. They're going to wind up getting the best one available. The Nats are in agreement with veteran reliever Brad Hand on a one-year deal worth $10.5 million, pending a physical, a source familiar with the signing confirmed. Once the deal becomes official, the Nationals will have added one of baseball's best lefty relievers over the last...
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Nats take a shot on veteran lefty Avilan with minor league deal

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...
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