Left-hander Sean Burnett has been a big piece of the Washington bullpen on the season thus far. (Image Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE)

How Many Lefties Is Too Many?


With Sunday’s decision to add Mike Gonzalez to the active roster, the Washington Nationals are now carrying four left-handed pitchers in their bullpen – an unconventional setup at best. It very likely could be a short term problem, so to speak, given the fact that Brad Lidge, a right-hander, may be ready to return to the bullpen as early as this weekend.

Gonzalez was just recently signed to a minor league contract after surprisingly drawing minimal interest as Spring Training came and went. He’s an established reliever with a fair track record, despite some significant struggles over each of the past two seasons. For his career Gonzalez has a 2.94 ERA in 358.2 innings of work over a nine year career spent mostly with the Pirates and Braves. Over the past two seasons with Baltimore and Texas, however, the 34 year old has struggled, posting a combined 4.27 ERA while allowing more hits against predominantly American League batters.

Washington clearly sees some value in adding Gonzalez to the bullpen, but what value that is remains to be seen given the timing. His stay in Washington may prove to be short lived depending on what direction the organization chooses to go in this time next week.

Sean Burnett seems like the one with the strongest hold on his roster spot, having pitched to a 0.57 ERA with 19 strikeouts and just 6 walks in 15.2 innings of work. He’s been instrumental in the later innings and has actually held right-hander batters (.185) to a lower batting average than left-handed ones (.205). There is a mutual option in place for 2013 that would pay Burnett $3.5 Million. If he continues to pitch this well it would seem to be a no-brainer for Washington to exercise their side of things.

It would seem logical to assume that Ross Detwiler‘s spot on the roster is also safe. He’s already been bumped out of the rotation for reasons that still don’t quite make complete sense and he’s out of options, meaning he can’t simply be optioned to the minor leagues. If Washington tries to sneak him through waivers it seems certain that another team would be willing to take a chance on his potential. Detwiler could also be important later in the season once the innings start to add up for the remainder of the starting rotation.

That leaves Tom Gorzelanny, someone who’s fate has long been a tenuous one in the view of most of the DoD staff. He hasn’t necessarily pitched poorly this year – 3.51 ERA, 19 strikeouts, in 25.2 innings – but he doesn’t quite fill a necessary role in the Washington bullpen. Gorzelanny, who’s making $3 Million this season and will go to arbitration one more time before reaching free agency, could potentially serve more value to another organization without such vast left-handed options if Washington chooses to move him. The cost likely would not be too prohibitive.

However, even given Gorzelanny’s seemingly uncertain place on the roster and this writer’s general disinterest in considering him a long-term building block, Gonzalez would appear to be the most likely one of the four left-handers to go if that is what the Nationals elect to do when Lidge (or another reliever) is ready to return to the bullpen. He is the newest to the organization, so there is no history to take into consideration and no track record that benefits him. The organization took a flyer on signing him to a minor league contract and barring an unusually dominant performance over the next week it seems hard to understand how he’d do enough to supplant any of the options who’ve been on the roster for a longer stretch of time.

Tags: Featured Mike Gonzalez Nationals Popular Ross Detwiler Sean Burnett Tom Gorzelanny Washington Nationals