The long winter may still be persisting in the nation’s capital, but the sun is finally beginning to set on the long baseball offseason. Just yesterday, February 19, the pitchers and catchers for the Washington Nationals reported to Florida, meaning that spring baseball is growing ever closer.
As the season approaches, District on Deck’s coverage of the Nationals rolls on. In our effort to be your center for Nats spring training coverage, we’ve been providing individual profiles of each of the Nationals non-roster invitees. Recently, we’ve covered Mitch Lively and Emmanuel Burriss. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at relief pitcher Bruce Billings.
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Billings, who is 29, is something of a journeyman. Drafted in the 30th round of the 2007 amateur draft by the Rockies, he worked his way slowly, steadily up through the minor league ranks until he finally got his first shot at the majors on May 27, 2011, during garbage time in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The outing didn’t go particularly well for Billings, though it didn’t go terribly, either. Billings pitched the eighth and ninth innings; over the course of the two innings, he gave up one earned run on five hits with no strikeouts and no walks.
That would be the last that Billings would pitch for the team that drafted him. On June 30, Billings was traded in a packaged deal for Mark Ellis to the Oakland A’s. Billings would make three more appearances, all in August, for Oakland in 2011. Over the course of those three games, Billings allowed 7 earned runs on nine hits over five innings, including one home run and six walks. Those statistics were enough to earn Billings an ERA of 12.60 and an ERA+ of a grisly 34. The lone bright spot was Billings’ K/9, which equaled his ERA at 12.6.
Billings would spend all of 2012 and 2013 with the AA and AAA affiliates of Oakland before signing a minor league deal with the Yankees in December of 2013. He made a single appearance for the Bronx Bombers in 2014, a game in which he gave up 4 earned runs over 4 innings, with 2 home runs, one walk, and seven strike outs.
The Yankees would eventually release Billings on August 2. Five days later, he signed with the Dodgers and pitched five innings for their AAA affiliate. On November 21, 2014, Billings signed his minor league deal with the Nationals.
It’s hard to know what the Nationals should expect from Billings, but even with the addition of Casey Janssen, the losses of Soriano, Detwiler, and Clippard have left the Nats with a bulk of relief innings that they’ll need to replace. Billings might not seem like a prime candidate to produce what the Nats need, but he may be able to chip in here or there.
Right now, Steamer has him projected for one inning pitched in 2015, which is a polite way of saying they don’t see him garnering significant playing time. But projections have been wrong before. Perhaps with the right coaching, Billings could provide 10-20 innings over the course of the season. If that happened, the Nationals would have to count themselves as pleasantly surprised.
Billings’ best asset is the fact that he gets strikeouts, and that’s big for relievers. He’ll need to avoid walks and the long ball, too, but again, that could come down to coaching. It’s a long shot for Bruce to make the 25 man roster for Opening Day, but the Nationals would likely be happy with anything that the 30-year-old Billings can give them.