Washington Nationals: Eight-man pen right but risky

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 07: Sean Doolittle /

The Washington Nationals join other teams in 2018 by adding another bullpen arm. But, by shortening the bench, other risks become a factor.

The Washington Nationals will start the season with an eight-man bullpen.

With starting pitchers moderately stretched out, you can understand the reasons for extra insurance. As the old axiom goes, you can never have too much pitching. When you consider Washington has chosen a balance of four lefty and righty arms, you know they are prepared.

But, the bench is shorted a hitter. Remember, this is a National League team. With Miguel Montero as the backup catcher, you have just three pinch hitters unless you are burning Matt Wieters out of a game early. It carries a risk.

More from District on Deck

So does a short bullpen.

Behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lies average starters. Tanner Roark might toss eight innings one night. Gio Gonzalez could get rocked the next and leave in the fourth. With A.J. Cole at the end of the rotation, the bullpen will be used.

If we have leaned one thing from successful playoff teams the last few years, those bullpens are as taxed as a Big Gulp in Seattle. Despite the sugary goodness of your favorite cola, it comes at a price. That extra dime and calories are on you, those added pitches and innings are on tired arms.

We expect new manager Dave Martinez to use a quicker hook on his starters compared to Dusty Baker. Those arms must remain as fresh as possible too. You thought managing was easy, right?

To balance the pitching, the sacrifice comes on the bench. Except for Wieters, the remaining seven starters should play every day. Matt Adams can fill as an extra left fielder. Wilmer Difo has played the infield and Brian Goodwin knows all three outfield spots.

Defensively, they are fine. Late game strategy? We will see.

When Daniel Murphy returns, the Nats face another tough decision. Will they send down a reliever such as Sammy Solis who has options? Or, do they keep the bench at four and demote Difo? He is the lone player on the bench with a minor-league option and Howie Kendrick is as, if not more, versatile off the bench.

The smart money is on Washington using eight from the pen as long as they can.

Injuries will dictate plans as the season goes. A strong start by Gonzalez or Roark may lessen the bullpen burden and allow a fifth bench player to come up.

Next: Predicting Nats rotation success

A roster of 13 pitchers and 12 hitters is tricky. But, in modern baseball, you at least must try it.