The Washington Nationals bullpen took a big hit on Thursday afternoon when they found out that reliever Craig Stammen will be out for the rest of the season due to a torn flexor muscle. Stammen was one of the relievers that Matt Williams liked to go in the early stages of this season. Plus, he had appeared in 49+ games over the previous three seasons.
With Stammen out, this further exemplifies the bullpen makeover that the Nats had this winter. Ross Detwiler was traded to Texas, Tyler Clippard was dealt to Oakland for Yunel Escobar, and Rafael Soriano is still a free agent. The team did sign Casey Janssen back in February, but he has yet to appear in a game due to a shoulder injury.
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As I mentioned earlier this week, once Janssen comes back, the Nats have a player that has experience in the eighth inning, which is a huge bonus in terms of not having to mix and match in a ton of situations. However, two recent callups by the organization have the potential to be huge positives throughout the season for Washington.
One of those is Rafael Martin. The 30-year-old had an excellent debut on Wednesday against the Red Sox when he struck out five straight batters. While he doesn’t have the velocity on his fastball, he has a very good slider. Maritn had a great season at triple-A Syracuse, where he had a 0.80 ERA and saved 11 games in 12 chances. Martin won’t be asked to be the closer with Washington, but he is another right-hander who Williams can use in different situations.
The other guy is Felipe Rivero, who was called up on Thursday. I was very impressed with Rivero this spring when I watched him hit 96 miles per hour on the gun in a game against Houston. Rivero was being stretched out as a starter, He is only 23 years old and had a 4.12 ERA in ten starts at double-A Harrisburg last year.
However, you now add a second hard throwing lefty to complement Matt Thornton. Rivero has to fix the control problems, however, as he had nearly two walks per start last year. He got his Major League debut last night against the Philies where he gave up an earned run, but struck out two batters.
The Nationals now have three young relievers in Rivero, Martin, and Blake Treinen, that bring some excitement into the ‘pen. While the bullpen is still a big concern on the team, Janssen’s return should help that in some way. Plus, Tanner Roark could always be used as another option in the late innings if the team chooses to use Rivero as the long man.
While this bullpen definitely has a new cast of characters, it will be interesting to see how these new parts assimilate into the bullpen throughout the year as they try to protect leads for the excellent rotation, something that they could not do in the first week of the season.