Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Grace, Rivero, Martin … and Treinen



You have to love MLB debut stories like Grace's ... photo AP/Nick Wass via

You have to love MLB debut stories like Grace’s … photo AP/Nick Wass via

When I checked the box score this morning from last night’s 7-5 loss, I was pleasantly surprised to see Matt Grace‘s debut in the majors.  His debut was relatively clean; his walk was by all accounts a non-intentional intentional walk and he otherwise handled the side.  WP’s Chelsea James wrote a great story about Grace’s debut, which sounds as hectic and crazy as a lot of players’ emergency call-ups … I’m guessing Grace’s family didn’t get enough warning to get to Washington to see him pitch.

Most of us thought Grace was the next guy in line for a loogy spot in the pen, after his excellent 2014 in AAA.  But Felipe Rivero jumped over him earlier this off-season … and suddenly came down with what’s being described as a “gastro-intestinal issue” and is headed to the 15 day D/L.

Rafael Martin continues his excellent work, having now struck out 8 of the 12 batters he’s faced.  Yeah, i’ll take that.  Even given last night’s homer to Matt Adams.

Meanwhile, i’m starting to worry about Blake Treinen in the pen, especially being thrust into such an important role.  But in his six appearances this year, he now has two blown saves and two losses … and another outing where he gave up the demoralizing “put the game out of reach” run in the top of the 9th.  That’s not a very good start to the season.  Yeah yeah its April and all, but April games count just as much as September games, and I wonder if the team isn’t thinking about finding another alternative.

Of course, it goes without saying that in the first 20 days of the season, the team has now used ten (10) relievers … and used just twelve (12) all of last season.  And not one of 2015’s set of reliever appearances actually includes the team’s major off-season bullpen acquisition Casey Janssen.

And it is worth noting that, as of today, the Nats have zero (0) remaining relievers in the minors on the 40-man roster (unless you’re squinting and calling Sammy Solis a reliever now … which he very well may be since he’s in AA and isn’t in their rotation … but he has exactly 37 1/3 professional innings since the middle of 2013 and is no where near a MLB call-up).  It seems to me that the next move the team makes may very well be giving a shot to some longer-serving minor league vet (someone like a Mitch Lively) or to give one of the several MLB-experienced guys in Syracuse a shot (Rich Hill, Evan Meek or Eric Fornataro).  Its why you have a AAA “spare parts” team, right?

Do you feel like the bullpen needs this drastic of a make-over?  Maybe not: the Nats bullpen is currently 7th in the league in bullpen ERA.  Do we *really* have a problem?   Or like any thing else, do you just say, “Hey, its April … lets see how this turns out?”

37 Responses to 'Grace, Rivero, Martin … and Treinen'

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  1. I may be the only one who is really enjoying this Nats bullpen so far.

    I love the young fireballers (and Martin) coming in and seeing what they have. I really like spreading around the opportunities. And I think there is a ton of talent there and hopefully MR/MW can figure out how to turn those guys into a killer pen within a month or two. With youth we cannot expect consistency out of the gate – Treinen is struggling, but with that stuff, I have confidence he’ll figure it out and needs some reps (perhaps not in the 8th inning of close games, but maybe to get a tough righty out in the 8th).

    Who’s next? Rich Hill, AJ Cole, and then Sammy Solis. Rivero and Janssen are both 2 weeks away as well. The cupboard of talented pitchers is full.

    Where I struggle is with usage. Treinen to start the 8th was ok last night, but why not have others warm up and keep Treinen on a short leash in a 1-1 game? He was facing a lot of lefties, so it felt like MW was playing with fire. I can deal with trial and error now, but by the playoffs, MW had better be going with matchups much more.

    Andrew R

    23 Apr 15 at 10:58 am

  2. We should not be panicked about this bullpen. People have to be slotted in the right roles for them. Janssen is coming back, Martin has been used sparingly, Roark has the guts to contribute high leverage innings but is transitioning, Thornton has been effective, and Barrett deserves to be part of the big league equation.

    If Treinen is ineffective in his role, he won’t have many more chances, and there will be others to take his place (perhaps his clock will last as long as Janssen is unavailable).

    The offense continues to be the problem. The starting pitching has been more of a problem of underperformance than the bullpen. They are not pitching like five aces (other than Max).


    23 Apr 15 at 11:55 am

  3. You have to think Rich Hill is next in line.

    Treinen is going to be a great starter someday, but he’s faltered 4 times in a row.

    Mark L

    23 Apr 15 at 1:22 pm

  4. I don’t think the offense is the problem right now. After scoring just 10 runs in their first 5 games (2 run average), they’ve scored 50 in the subsequent 10 (average of 5 per game).

    In 2014, when they scored 5+ runs, the team was nearly unbeatable; 57-6. They’ve *already* managed to lose games this year where they scored 4 and 7 runs (both to Boston) as well as last night’s 5 run losing effort. If you salvage a 5-0 hole, you just cannot blow the game in the bullpen.

    For me; i would try someone else in that hand-off spot to get to Storen. And then hope we hold on until Janssen is back, at which point perhaps we send Treinen back down.

    Todd Boss

    23 Apr 15 at 1:37 pm

  5. Rizzo was just on 106.7. Sounds like Janssen is really close. He was very optimistic about the young arms in the pen and said they would thrive when they understood their roles better. I tend to agree.

    Andrew R

    23 Apr 15 at 1:41 pm

  6. How does Blake Treinen *not* understand his role? He’s the 8th inning guy; the guy who gets the game to the closer. He has 6 appearances and has come in exactly to start the 8th in four of them.

    I dunno. How does anyone out in that pen right now NOT understand their roles? What confusion is there about any of these 7 guys and their roles? Storen = closer (no argument). Treinen = setup guy. Barrett is the backup setup guy. Thornton is the loogy (six of his seven appearances have been for just one or two batters). Now Grace is the other loogy. Now Martin looks like the RH middle reliever guy that Stammen was. Roark is the long-man.

    Who is confused? Not attacking you Andrew you’re just the messenger … but that Rizzo comment just sounds like BS.

    Thank god Janssen is close; that BP needs some veteran presence.

    Todd Boss

    23 Apr 15 at 1:52 pm

  7. I do not see either the offense or the rotation as issues. Sure they may have underperformed a bit, but no reason to thin it is anything other than a blip and reversion to the mean will see improved performance. Plus, Rendon’s absence cannot be overstated. Hopefully that is fixed in a month.

    My take on the pen is that they have a bunch of interesting arms in the pen, but (1) they are too inexperienced to all be there at one time, and in a year where the Nats are all in, and (2) there is a decided lack of guys with out pitches, which is critical for a high leverage guy. Might just be Barrett, although Martin’s start has to give him some consideration. But even putting aside the inexperience, this pen likely requires better management than the past pens, and I think Matty needs to pick up his game. In the past, he didn’t need to worry about match-ups that much with Clip, Stammen, Storen, even Rafi Sori-oh-no. They all had reasonable platoon splits. But this pen may have at 3-4 LOOGY/ROOGY types, which is fine, but you need to manage them differently.

    So, at the risk of becoming my father-in-law and constantly repeating myself, I see some trades coming. I think Rizzo is keenly aware of how committed he is to 2015, and I do not see ‘waiting for Janssen’ as an effective strategy. I think this is one time that the speculation may have some basis of true to it, and I would not be at all surprised if Rizzo ponied up big prospects for Chapman. We had what, 6 top 100 guys? I’d say two of them, plus something lower level might get it done, and I think he seriously considers it. I’d say only Giolito is untouchable, although he tries super hard not to trade Taylor or Turner either. That trade fits many of Rizzo’s criteria – an established, elite guy; someone who he liked and went after before; a guy with more than 1 year of control. It also solves so many of the pens problems by pushing everyone down a peg, beginning at Storen. If nothing else changed, except Storen was the 8th inning guy and Chapman had the 9th, I thin we’d all feel pretty good about the pen. If we can’t get him or someone like him, then I’d probably think a few arms are coming.

    I don’t think we have to rush into anything, and can go with some collection of these guys through the ASB. But after going all in this year by deciding to play it out and take a pick for the big 4, it would be a terrible decision to go into the playoffs with such an inexperienced group.


    23 Apr 15 at 2:21 pm

  8. Am I concerned about the bullpen now? No, not yet. Would I want to see them go into the playoffs with this group? Aw, heck no.

    Yes, Janssen could end up being an effective replacement for Clippard, but I still dread the thought of these guys (especially Storen) trying to hold a one run lead when it really matters. The bullpen was a big factor in the 2012 and 2014 NLDS losses, and it’s even less formidable now than it was either of those two years.

    Karl Kolchack

    23 Apr 15 at 8:21 pm

  9. Count me in the same camp with Karl, the Night Stalker. I’m not really worried right now. There are enough good arms, plus Janssen on the way. MW and Cat just have to figure out the right combinations. Grace looked very confident against the heart of the Cards’ order on Wed., and Martin’s K level is making him look like Clip.

    Longer term, it’s hard to say. Right now, I’m not that confident in Storen with a big game on the line. But we spent big on Soriano, and I wasn’t that confident in him in big games, either. Ditto for Clippard, despite his overall effectiveness. He could be a high-wire act at times.

    All of that said, is it worth giving up some top prospects for Chapman? First of all, I think Giolito, Taylor, and Turner are untouchable, due to pending team needs. I don’t want to dip too deeply into the potential young starter pool, either, with the possibility of having to fill three rotation slots over the next two years. Would Jordan, T. Hill, and one of the young catchers bring Chapman? I don’t know. Add Voth to that, perhaps. But that’s the level at which the Nats would be wanting to deal. It would be a combo similar to the Gio trade.

    I can’t figure out Treinen. He throws incredibly hard, but he seems hittable, and he doesn’t get the level of K’s that his velocity says that he should. He seemed more effective as a starter, when he could use more of his pitches and not have the hitters sitting on his heater.


    24 Apr 15 at 7:49 am

  10. I have been struggling to figure Treinen out also. Not just below, but excessive movement on his pitches suggest better results.

    My guess is that batters can see his pitches fairly well, and his pitches seem to move more horizontally than vertically. There may be a slight mechanical adjustment to add some deception.

    I also agree he might be better as a starter, but he should still be better than this as a reliever


    24 Apr 15 at 9:54 am

  11. Not just ‘velo’


    24 Apr 15 at 9:54 am

  12. Treinen: agree. I was hugely impressed with his stuff last year. All the scouting reports of the movement on his ball (enough movement that it looks like a changeup at 97mph). His groundball rate would have been tops in the majors last year if he qualified. so what’s going on? Why is he getting pounded?

    Todd Boss

    24 Apr 15 at 11:28 am

  13. It’s been 6 games. The first two he pitched well. So 4 innings of poor work… He’s been in high leverage MLB bullpen situations for the first time this month. He has great stuff. I’m more concerned about our aging left fielder than our green fireballing reliever

    Andrew R

    24 Apr 15 at 11:38 am

  14. Andrew–Harper over at NB argues that Taylor should not have been sent down, but should be used as a sort of super 4th outfielder, subbing for both Span and Werth once a week and Bryce once a month while being our top righty bench bat. I’ve come around to that position, and it may become obvious that Werth needs even more bench time than that. Taylor himself bolstered the argument that his being in AAA is pointless by going 5 for his first 9.

    I fear that here is where the team’s extreme deference to veteran players is really going to hurt.

    Karl Kolchak

    24 Apr 15 at 12:53 pm

  15. I don’t think that it’s extreme deference to veteran players – I think its more a case that, right now, the veteran players are simply better than Taylor and the team wants to win.

    And while it’s always easy to say “rest the veterans X number of days,” I will point out that if they didn’t rest Werth yesterday the Nats may well have won that game. Werth likely catches the ball that Robinson let drop in front of him, and Robinson didn’t really contribute anything with his bat.

    Which is why the team gets criticized when it plays the veterans, and criticized when they don’t play the veterans.

    As for Taylor, I have no problem with him playing every day in AAA. Because while Taylor went five for his first 9, he has also struck out in his other four at bats. This at least suggests that his contact issues may not be completely behind him. He’s not only a phone call away if any of the starters gets hurt, but he can be called up later in the year once he’s gotten more regular playing time under his belt.

    John C.

    24 Apr 15 at 3:23 pm

  16. I thought it was a travesty to keep Souza in AAA last year while keeping Hairston and Souza is showing he has a Major league bat so far this year.

    While I liked MAT getting some time in the bigs and thought he played better than expected, he seemed mentally overwhelmed. I’m cool with him in AAA right now but will want to see him back by the all star break. It’s one thing to get some experience in the minors but another to waste away there if you’re dominating the level. Plus…hopefully we can keep werth fresh for the whole season.

    Andrew R

    24 Apr 15 at 3:47 pm

  17. Andrew–do you REALLY think Moore, Reed Johnson and Robinson are better than Taylor?

    Taylor is by far the best fourth outfielder option for this club. He’s still tied for second on the team in HRs and he has the ONLY two stolen bases for the entire team in the first 16 games. He’s a potential 20-20 guy right now, and they desperately need his power and his speed in the lineup as much as possible.

    Karl Kolchack

    24 Apr 15 at 4:03 pm

  18. Oops, sorry…that response was for John, not Andrew.

    Karl Kolchack

    24 Apr 15 at 4:03 pm

  19. Well said, Karl.
    I do think a month or two @ AAA will be good for Taylor but he better be up by July 1.

    Mark L

    24 Apr 15 at 7:46 pm

  20. . . . and the ‘pen loses another one . . .

    Here’s a head-scratcher: the Dodgers traded for Xavier Cedeno but have now DFA’d him already. Poor guy won’t know what city he’s in by the time he’s done.


    24 Apr 15 at 10:06 pm

  21. In fairness, the ‘pen only gave up one run in three innings, which I’ll take in most instances. In this case, the offense has to score, particularly against a bad team.


    25 Apr 15 at 6:51 am

  22. Cedeno;

    So weird. The article seems to think the Dodger’s strategy is to stash Cedeno in AAA … which of course begs the question, why didn’t the Nats try to do that? I can’t imagine that the “cash purchase price” for Cedeno was much more than a nominal amount since he was DFA’d …

    Todd Boss

    25 Apr 15 at 8:23 am

  23. So … I have been thinking hard on the Nats and what they should do, carefully study their analytics and tendencies, and have come up with this:
    They are a giant can of suck-wad.

    I am officially switching to rooting for when Giolito gets to Potomac, and get down to see a start.



    25 Apr 15 at 6:07 pm

  24. Wally — I’m with you. A couple of the posters on Zuckerman’s site said after today’s game that the Nats will be fine when Rendon returns. Really? Can Rendon pitch out of the bullpen? Can he pinch hit?

    It has become painfully obvious that the Nats’ strategy this past offseason of trying to have their cake (signing Scherzer to make themselves a WS favorite) and eat it too (make trades to set themselves up for future years instead of addressing the current club’s weaknesses) is backfiring big time. Sending Taylor back to AAA when he is probably already the fourth or fifth best offensive player on the team is yet another example of this.

    Karl Kolchack

    25 Apr 15 at 8:35 pm

  25. Fire Matt Williams. We need a motivator in the clubhouse.


    Andrew R

    25 Apr 15 at 9:24 pm

  26. The offense is just dreadful. And the team’s malaise has that WS or bust bust about about it.

    Never did I (or anyone else) think that the team MVP 18 games in would be Yuniel Escobar. Gotta give Rizzo credit for that one. And Escobar, of course. Rendon played 2B at Harrisburg tonight.

    Watching Souza’s needed punch hurts. But this is Jayson Werth’s team, and he will have to lead it and inspire others offensively. That’s the big bet the team made this offseason – that their punchless and pathetic showing against the Giants was a blip that could be reversed with the 2015 cast. With Taylor banished to AA for the time being, the cupboard is otherwise bare offensively.

    The starters will come around, but they certainly don’t help with outings like today.

    It may be the manager’s responsibility to generate some fire on offense, but I can’t get excited over the bullpen shortcomings yet. The offense just blows.


    25 Apr 15 at 10:31 pm

  27. More and more this is looking like 2013, where all the pundits annointed the Nats as the can’t lose WS favorites. And they read too much of their own press, fell victim to a gazillion injuries, and floundered most of the year.

    Todd Boss

    26 Apr 15 at 12:55 pm

  28. Has Matt Williams had an original thought ever!
    He’s solid, but……….

    Mark L

    26 Apr 15 at 1:31 pm

  29. And the suck-wad rolls on, gaining steam. Can’t execute a simple run down, then a three run triple.

    I have wondered why, as a fan of the team with the best record in baseball, I have such little confidence in the team, and I think it is because of crap like this, just poor execution so many times, especially when it feels like an important moment. The errors, the non error mistake (like the botched run down).

    It’s almost comical and I cannot believe it is still April.


    26 Apr 15 at 2:37 pm

  30. forensicane – I love the way our offensive leader stood there in his last at bat and watched a slow Dan Haren straight ball go right by him for strike three with two on and two out. Is there some kind of law that states that JW cannot be dropped to 7th in the order until such time as he actually starts hitting?

    TB – what’s scary is that (depending on what is up with Scherzer) when Rendon returns next week they will nearly have their entire team intact a lot earlier than they did in 2013.

    Wally – Right before the season started I remember a Zuckerman article speculating about how much the Nats’ “easy” April schedule was going to help them. Seems like a LONG time ago already.

    Karl Kolchack

    26 Apr 15 at 2:58 pm

  31. Karl, regarding the lineup, see above.

    The April schedule HAS been easy.

    Mark L

    26 Apr 15 at 3:07 pm

  32. It’s going to take some time for Werth to get up to speed fully. And even Span. But there is no excuse for the rest of the underperformance (Desmond, Ramos, Zimmerman, Espi-Uggla)in the lineup. Rendon will help, but the lack of spark is painful. They actually feel the loss of Michael Taylor. And there is no one at AAA or even AA otherwise who inspires offensively.

    Why not give Tyler Moore a start or two, just to shake things up and potentially inject some power?


    26 Apr 15 at 5:37 pm

  33. Looking for a few points of light in the darkness, we got two good outings from Treinen and another from Grace.

    But that and Harper are all I’ve got. And yes, Escobar looks like a good pickup.

    The good news from the minor-league front is that Brian Goodwin is finally back, at Harrisburg. Still looking for the word of Giolito and Lopez reporting to Potomac.


    26 Apr 15 at 8:39 pm

  34. Nothing like easing A. J. Cole into his MLB debut in the second game of a meaningless double header in June or July, right? Nope, kid, we’re putting you in Scherzer’s spot and expecting you to be the stopper of one of the ugliest steaks since the bad old days. Good luck!

    Uggla has to know that this is his last shot, with Rendon lurking. What better place to turn things around than against the team that’s still paying him? If nothing else, he’s the guy I want heading toward Simmons at full tilt while he’s trying to turn two.

    The Simmons slide was one of the cheapest plays I’ve seen in a long time. Can it be the spark that awakens the moribund Nats?


    28 Apr 15 at 5:21 am

  35. Guess who else isn’t playing well almost a month into his walk year–Tyler Clippard! Record of 0-2, 3.24 ERA but an awful 1.440 WHIP, and almost as many walks (6) as Ks (7).

    So yeah, right now the Escobar trade looks like a good one.

    Karl Kolchack

    28 Apr 15 at 9:32 am

  36. new posted a Rant….

    Todd Boss

    28 Apr 15 at 9:43 am

  37. Btw, completely agree Karl. If we didn’t have Escobar … who would be covering in the field?

    Todd Boss

    28 Apr 15 at 10:27 am

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