With the Washington Nationals now officially eliminated from postseason contention, itâ€™s time to look at some of the major questions that face this organization heading into the winter. One of those needs is going to be in the bullpen. With the latest Jonathan Papelbon incident, there is no sure thing for this â€˜pen next year as Drew Storen could be traded after the organization demoted him in the Papelbon deal and Casey Janssen has a $1.5 million buyout for next year.
If all three players leave, the Nats do have a player in their organization who has earned the right to get a shot at a prominent bullpen role next year. All the talk about the Nats’ rookies this season has been starting pitcher Joe Ross and infielder Trea Turner, but Felipe Rivero has put together a good first season and has been one of the more consistent options in a bullpen that is tied for ninth in baseball in ERA (3.46).
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Coming into the season, the 24-year-old left-hander was down in the minor leagues to begin the season. For triple-A Syracuse, Rivero went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in eight games before being promoted to the big leagues on April 22.
In a year where Rivero spent nearly a month on the disabled list because of a GI bleed, the rookie has made waves in the Natsâ€™ bullpen as their primary left-hander. In 46 games this season, Rivero has a 2.98 ERA and has 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. During his last 13 games, opponents are hitting a mere .059 against him. Plus, he has become a pitcher that Williams has trusted a lot this season in big situations.
Even in his first season, left-handed hitters are having a hard time catching up to Rivero’s fastball, which can reach up to 100 miles per hour. In 81 at-bats, lefties are hitting .198 with eight RBI’s. Plus, right-handed hitters have not been that much better (.220 opponents’ batting average). According to Fangraphs, the average velocity on his fastball this year is 95 miles per hour to go with a slider and changeup.
It remains to be seen what Mike Rizzo’s plans are for the bullpen, especially if he decides to cut Papelbon and have someone else close games out in 2016. That being said, Rivero has been a guy that has made a good impression this season and that could go a long way into giving him a prominent role in the Washington Nationals’€™ bullpen when the 2016 season begins.