The Nationals aren’t the only team in the National League East with bullpen issues.
After an offseason of acquiring bullpen arms, NL East teams are having difficult times finding reliable relief arms. And there are still two weeks to go in April.
The Nationals’ Austen Williams gave up four ninth-inning runs Wednesday in a 9-6 win against the Giants at Nationals Park, meaning the Nationals went into Thursday’s game with the highest bullpen ERA (8.04) in the league.
The Mets were the second-highest at 5.87. The Phillies’ new guys, including 33-year-old David Robertson, José Álvarez and Juan Nicasio, haven’t pitched well.
Robertson has a 2.10 WHIP, Nicasio is at 2.05 and Álvarez 1.88. Seranthony Dominguez hasn’t hit his stride yet.
The Braves, who had the thinnest bullpen going into the offseason and passed on big-name free-agent relievers to save money, are even thinner now that Arodys Vizcaíno, one of their co-closers, is done for the season with a shoulder injury.
The Braves’ plan was for Vizcaíno and lefty A.J. Minter to share the closing duties. But, Minter had shoulder issues in spring training and his durability is a question.
Atlanta’s bullpen ERA is 5.17, the 10th highest in the league.
The Braves might have to use their rotation depth to fill the bullpen.
Craig Kimbrel anyone?
The 30-year-old is a free agent, and the Braves would love to have him return to Atlanta, but he apparently is not moving off his demand for a long-term deal in the neighborhood of $100 million.
The Braves are interested, but only in a short-term contract. It’s likely the other teams feel the same way.
Kimbrel has been one of the best closers in baseball, but teams are concerned that in the last couple of years his walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down and he’s losing fastball velocity.
And Kimbrel didn’t pitch well for Boston in the postseason last year. Teams worry he’s trending downward and that he’s not worth Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman money.
The Mets figured adding all-world, flame-throwing closer Edwin Díaz and lefty Justin Wilson and bringing back Jeurys Familia - who had 83 strikeouts in 72 innings for the Mets and Oakland last season - would be enough, considering that relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman were coming off solid seasons in 2018.
But the snapshot of the Mets’ bullpen issues was Monday night in Philadelphia when Familia came on to protect a 6-5 lead in the eighth. He loaded the bases. Gsellman took over and walked in the tying run.
Gsellman and Lugo have each given up more hits than their respective number of innings pitched. Wilson’s been all right and Díaz is 6-for-6 with saves.
“We’re are strapped for arms,’’ Mets manager Mickey Calloway has told reporters.
In the Nationals’ bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal, who can hit 100 mph with his fastball but did not pitch in 2018 because of elbow surgery, is shaking off the rust and showing improvement.
However, when he throws a strike, Nats Park fans sarcastically cheer.
The Nationals hope Rosenthal can follow another former St. Louis reliever, Greg Holland, who struggled with the Cardinals last season, but came to Washington and pitched well.
Tony Sipp signed late and is rounding into shape. He’s pitched four innings. Another lefty, Matt Grace, is getting hit. Justin Miller is on the injured list.
The Nationals even brought up starter Joe Ross from the minors to work out of the bullpen. Ross is coming back from elbow surgery.
And how about this? Trevor Gott, the reliever with an electric fastball who failed to make an impression with the Nationals from 2016-2018, is off to a great start for San Francisco. The Nationals traded Gott to the Giants to make room on their roster after they signed starter Jeremy Hellickson for a second season in D.C.
What to do now?
Teams in need of bullpen arms have to be patient for in-house improvement because they have no leverage on the trade market, especially this early.
The Nationals reportedly talked to Bud Norris, a former starter-turned-closer with the Angels and Cardinals. He had durability issues at the end of last season.
The scrap heap or minor-league help are the only alternatives, unless Kimbrel’s price becomes reasonable.
But, even then, when would Kimbrel be ready?