The Washington Nationals acquired veteran reliever Joe Blanton for added depth at the back end of the bullpen, but he deserves a look for the closer job as well.
On paper, the Washington Nationals look like one of the best teams in baseball heading into this season.
They have a star-studded rotation, deep lineup and manager that’s seen it all at 67-years-old. One key issue that many have pinpointed within their roster, however, is the closer role. Without any clear front-runner for the job, recently acquired right-hander Joe Blanton should be in consideration.
Blanton, 36, has managed to rejuvenate his career as a reliever after electing to retire in 2014 when he was unable to be an effective starter.
Over the past two seasons since returning to the majors, Blanton has accrued a 2.65 ERA and 9.2 K/9 over 111 appearances for the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers. While he only picked up two saves over that span, Blanton’s veteran presence and recent success gives him an edge over the other candidates.
The mix for closer features several arms that have been successful over the past year, but none that have much experience in the ninth inning.
Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Koda Glover have a combined 12 saves under the belts, with 11 of them courtesy of Kelley. None of them have much more experience than Blanton finishing out games, forcing manager Dusty Baker to consider other factors.
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While some may consider going with an aging arm at closer is a risky move, Blanton isn’t a typical 36-year-old. He’s only thrown 156 innings over the past three seasons after taking a full year off in 2014.
Blanton’s also made six different trips to the postseason throughout his career, including a World Series run with the Phillies in 2008. While he’s certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning, there’s a lot to like about Blanton.
Kelley has undergone two Tommy John surgeries and is known to struggle when forced to pitch in back-to-back outings. Treinen isn’t the best strikeout artist out there and has yet to cut down on the number of walks he gives up. There’s a bright future in store for Glover but he’s yet to prove himself over a full season at the major league level.
Blanton’s name might not come up when discussing the top closer’s in baseball, but he deserves a look for the closer’s job in D.C. The Nationals have high aspirations for this season and a roster that appears built for a deep playoff run. With the ninth inning role the final missing piece, Blanton might be the biggest key to it all.