Washington Nationals: Long reliever playoff roster spot up for grabs
By Ricky Keeler
With two weeks left until the postseason, the Washington Nationals long man roster spot is up for grabs with many candidates in the race
The Washington Nationals don’t have many position battles in their push for the postseason. However, the bullpen is going to go back to being the main focus. Since the second half, most of the relievers have thrown the ball well, which makes for some healthy competition over the next two weeks.
In the first round, the Nats are likely to have all four starters available (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark). With teams not using a regular rotation, the fifth starter usually is the emergency reliever in October, but Edwin Jackson hasn’t helped that cause lately.
Over his last three starts, Jackson has given up 16 earned runs and seven home runs. Right now, the 34-year-old veteran is not locating his fastball and leaving it up in the zone. Any good lineup is going to take advantage of that. While his postseason spot looked secure a couple of weeks ago, that security has faded a bit.
When you look at the postseason as a whole, every team needs that emergency reliever to come in if one of the starters struggles early to try to keep an offense in the game. One name that comes to mind for me is looking back at what Mike Mussina did during his time with the Yankees.
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If Jackson doesn’t get that spot, two names to keep an eye on are A.J. Cole and Matt Grace. First, let’s start with Cole, who has been both a starter and reliever lately. Despite giving up three runs in five innings yesterday against the Dodgers, he didn’t let the game get out of reach and that’s important in October.
As a reliever, Cole can throw the ball 96 miles per hour with his fastball, but the walks in October could end up costing a team if they come in a bad spot. He has been good depth for a team that has lacked starting pitching depth, but has it been good enough for him to earn a roster spot?
If I were making this decision, the pitcher that would be the right choice is Grace. Yes, the Nats already have a lot of left-handed options in their bullpen, but Grace has impressed at times this year. He started in place of Scherzer in San Diego and was two outs away from getting a win.
As the season has gone on, Baker has shown more and more trust in Grace as either a long man or a late inning reliever at certain points. His one issue is that righties are hitting .290 against him this year with three home runs. As for how lefties have done, they hit .247 but do not have one extra-base hit.
Since Jackson has struggled, the long man/emergency reliever race is wide open. You could make a case for any of these three pitchers and they will have a lot to prove if they want to crack the 25-man postseason roster.
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It’s not clear who has the upper hand right now if these three are in competition. With that being said, Grace has earned the spot for being the most consistent throughout the season.