Nationals Analysis: Can Heath Bell Make Opening Day Roster?


Last week, I talked about how Tyler Moore was the standout of the spring so far for the Washington Nationals at the plate down in Viera. Today, I want to focus on a Nationals non-roster invitee who is off to a great start and could possibly make the roster himself if all goes right.

The reliever I am talking about is 37-year old Heath Bell. Bell, who ha a 7.27 ERA in 13 games with the Rays last year, has yet to give up a run in three appearances for the Nationals this spring. Yesterday, Bell struck out Carlos Correa and Jonathan Villar to end his lone inning of work. He has six strikeouts and two walks so far in 3.1 innings this spring.

So, what has been the difference for Bell this spring? Is it the velocity on his fastball? Not necessarily I asked Chris Johnson, who covers the team for that question. While the velocity can’t be determined without a radar gun in the stadium, Johnson did mention that manager Matt Williams talked about other pitches Bell is working on:

Now, in Bell’s short stint with the Rays, he did throw a splitter about 18% of the time, according to Fangraphs. However, the cutter has not been in his arsenal before. At this stage in his career, you have to think Bell needs to re-invent himself when you consider the average velocity on his fastball dropped to about 91 miles per hour (was about 93 with Arizona in 2013).

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With the injury to Drew Storen, Heath Bell does have closer experience should the Nationals need it along with Casey Janssen. Even if he doesn’t make the squad, a great spring can at least show that Bell should be one of the first relievers called up from triple-A Syracuse if there is an injury.

Last season, Bell had triple-A stints with two AL East teams, the Yankees and the Orioles. 15 of those 20 games came with Scranton (the Yankees’ affiliate), where he had a 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, but pitched to a 5.51 ERA. The command though was the issue with his walk rate at an alarming 6.6 per nine innings.

One of the things that Matt Williams has this offseason is a bullpen that can be used to mix and match in certain situations with very competent relievers. The question that will soon be answered in the next couple of weeks is whether or not Heath Bell will be an extra piece added to that puzzle. So far, he’s fitting right in as he tries to add in some new pitches to his game.

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