Nats haven’t picked closer yet, will inform him before opener

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals coaching staff and front office decision makers have not yet formally gathered to discuss who will open the season as their closer, but Dusty Baker said that meeting will take place soon and the affected pitchers will know their roles before heading north.

“We haven’t really discussed it at any length who it is yet,” Baker said this morning. “We’ll have a meeting. I believe in giving everybody a vote, cause that’s what good organizations do. You take all the brains in the room, you get their opinions.”

The Nationals have found themselves in the awkward position this spring of knowing who will comprise the majority of their bullpen but not knowing who will hold its highest-profile role. They’ve kept an open mind throughout while candidates Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Koda Glover and Joe Nathan have all gotten work.

Koda-Glover-throw-gray-sidebar.jpgSome pitchers have, however, been used in more significant spots in games to date. Most notably Glover, who has pitched the ninth inning more than any of the other candidates, including both Saturday and Monday at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Baker cautioned not to read anything into that.

“That was just his time to pitch,” the manager said. “We know he’s going to be somewhere toward the back end. But what are you going to read into Kelley and those others throwing at the minor league park?”

Fair enough. Kelley, Treinen and other more experienced relievers have been getting a significant portion of their work the last two weeks in minor league games, giving the coaching staff more opportunities to watch unfamiliar pitchers in person before deciding their fates.

Glover, though, remains well-regarded among many in the organization who see the 24-year-old right-hander as having both the stuff and the makeup to close in the big leagues. The debate continues to be a simple one: Do the Nationals want to throw a young reliever with only 19 games of major league experience to the wolves right out of the chute?

“He has the stuff to eventually be there,” Baker said. “We just have to decide: Is he ready or not now? Later in the game, in the ninth innings that he’s pitched, not to take anything away from Koda, the thing that I’ve liked the most is he’s throwing strikes with all his pitches. The thing you wish is that he was facing more of the guys he’s going to face in the championship season, because by then all the big boys are out of the game. ... Until you face the big boys, then you see. And a lot of times, you don’t know that til the season starts.”

Whatever the final decision, Baker made it clear he wants all the affected parties in his bullpen to know when the season opens, rather than simply telling them all to be ready for any situation and then be summoned when needed. He also suggested the eventual closer won’t be on a short leash, citing Kelley’s performance on opening day 2016 when the veteran entered with the bases loaded and promptly walked in a run on four pitches.

“No, that’s the worst thing,” the manager said. “And if a guy fails early, you’ve still got to give him a chance. I mean, do you remember Kelley’s first game? You’d have cut Kelley after the first day.”

* A.J. Cole, who had been a de facto member of the Nationals’ spring rotation while Max Scherzer has been working his way back from a stress fracture in his ring finger, did not get a start this time through the rotation. Baker said he has been dealing with “some tenderness,” but did not specify where.

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