By re-signing Howie Kendrick, the Washington Nationals ensured that their bench will be a strength again in 2018.
The most obvious theme of Washington Nationals teams over the years has been excellent pitching. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister are just a few of the great starting pitchers that have led the way on successful Nats teams.
However, the Nats typically boast a strong bench as well. They usually fly under the radar, playing the role of unsung heroes, but are just as important as the starters.
Former manager Davey Johnson established the importance of carrying a solid bench in 2012, which was non-coincidentally the first season that the Nats made the playoffs. Led by Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi, and Roger Bernadina, the “Goon Squad” did a phenomenal job of filling in when needed.
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The Nats have continued to boast strong benches over the years, which will be the case once again in 2018. Last year, under Dusty Baker, the Nats had one of the best benches in the league. This proved to be an enormous asset when seemingly anyone who put on a uniform got hurt, including Baker himself.
While the bench will look a little different in 2018, it will be just as strong. Adam Lind did an outstanding job off the bench in 2017, but he likely will not return in 2018. To replace him, the Nats signed veteran first baseman Matt Adams, who is essentially a younger version of Lind.
Adams is arguably the most important bench player, and he will play a huge role in the team’s success. As a power-hitting lefty, he will be the Nats’ primary pinch-hitter against right-handed pitchers. He will also serve as insurance for Ryan Zimmerman, so it is his job to keep Zimmerman fresh and fill in when needed.
The other veteran on the bench will be infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick. The versatile 34-year-old was acquired at the trade deadline last season, and could have been a rental, but re-signed with the Nats on Monday afternoon.
Like Adams, Kendrick is an extremely valuable asset off the bench. His defensive versatility will give Dave Martinez some much-appreciated flexibility, which can come in handy over the course of 162 games.
Kendrick is also a solid pinch-hitter. As a right-handed hitter, he will probably serve as the Nats’ primary pinch-hitter against lefties. Although they may not be big names, Adams and Kendrick can serve as an excellent pinch-hitting duo prepared for any matchup.
As things currently stand, the final three spots on the bench will be filled by younger players. Coming off of a breakout year, Wilmer Difo should be the primary back-up infielder in 2018. With Daniel Murphy possibly missing Opening Day, Difo might even sneak into the Opening Day lineup.
To go with Kendrick, Brian Goodwin will be a back-up outfielder. The former first-round draft pick finally made a name for himself in 2017, filling in admirably for several injured outfielders. The injury bug eventually caught Goodwin as well, putting a damper on his breakout campaign, but he appears ready to play a big role off the bench in 2018.
The fifth and final bench spot belongs to the back-up catcher. While the Nats could acquire an experienced catcher, it becomes increasingly likely every day that they go with either Pedro Severino or Raudy Read.
Severino and Read are unproven at the major league level, but they are both capable of serving as Matt Wieters‘ back-up. Both catchers are big parts of the Nats’ future plans, and this experience could expedite their development. Although it may not be the most popular decision, either one could do a fine job as the back-up catcher.
The bench is a crucial aspect of the roster, as the Nats have learned firsthand. Injuries are bound to occur over the course of 162 games, and the bench must be able to step in and not miss a beat. The Nats understand the importance of carrying a strong bench, and they have assembled one of the best in the league.