As the Washington Nationals try to figure out how their bullpen is going to be structured behind closer Drew Storen for the 2015 season, manager Matt Williams hinted on Tuesday afternoon that he could be creative and go with a mix-and-match approach in the late innings:
"“We’ll have to look at it and at this point say: Maybe we ought to match up a little more. As it was last year, that eighth inning was his. It may be that we match up in the eighth inning.” (h/t NatsInsider.com)"
Of course, Williams’ approach has had to change to some degree due to the loss of Tyler Clippard as Clippard was traded to Oakland for Yunel Escobar. Washington did sign Casey Janssen to a one-year, $5 million deal earlier this month. Janssen does have the ability to fulfill multiple roles, including closer should Storen falter in his role at some point.
One of the ideas that Mark Zuckerman mentioned in that Nats Insider piece was using Casey Janssen and Tanner Roark against righties in the eighth inning. While the Roark idea is intriguing, I still think the 28-year-old is better used as the long man in the rotation rather than middle relief. Roark doesn’t have the velocity as of right now to show he can pitch in the eigth. However, Janssen’s velocity has also dipped in recent years as he begins to rely more on the breaking ball.
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The reason to keep Roark out of middle relief is you never know when you are going to need that sixth starter because of injury. If someone were to go down, you have a player in Roark who can step into that role. Plus, from watching the New York Yankees mess with the careers of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, I wouldn’t want to see Roark go through that scenario.
Washington has the depth in their bullpen to mix-and-match, but I would rather see this team stick to set roles out of the pen. It allows those relievers to prepare for what inning they will come in to the game. Look at the Royals and Giants last season. The two World Series participants had set players in the setup and closer role, including in Kansas City’s case, a locked guy for the seventh inning in Kelvin Herrera.
This is a Nationals bullpen that does have some question marks and can be changed throughout the season depending on the performance of others. However, despite Janssen’s career 3.58 ERA in the eighth inning, I would keep him in one role and allow Williams to be creative with Aaron Barrett, Craig Stammen, Blake Treinen, and the two lefthanders (Matt Thornton and Jerry Blevins).