At the 2016 trade deadline, the names that were circulated as available elite bullpen arms were Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, and Mark Melancon. The Nationals went with Mark Melancon in a trade with the Pirates as their choice to take over the closer’s position, and they added lefty Marc Rzepczynski via a trade with the Oakland A’s as an extra lefty arm to fill the void when the team traded away Felipe Rivero in the Melancon trade.
The bullpen has been more than just Melancon as it was addition by subtraction when the team parted ways with Drew Storen in the off-season, and Jonathan Papelbon was released in August as the team moved in a different direction.
It has been the hard work which we noted in Spring Training as the Nationals new pitching coach Mike Maddux worked with Blake Treinen and the other youngsters on new grips, new philosophies and new strategies that Maddux called “pitching with a purpose”. It is paying dividends at the most important time.
Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo added Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Matt Belisle and Yusmeiro Petit as free agent acquisitions in the off-season and traded for Trevor Gott, and the team picked up Sean Burnett, Mark Melancon and Marc Rzepczynski to finalize a bullpen.
“This [Nationals] bullpen has been terrific,” said MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd.
How terrific has the bullpen been? The Washington Nationals’ bullpen has combined to pitch 12 1/3 innings in the NLDS so far, and they have a combined ERA of 0.00. Dusty Baker and Mike Maddux have followed an October strategy for the post-season that you would not do in April or May. All pitchers on the roster have been used to this point except for Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez.
Also remember that Stephen Strasburg threw 31 pitches yesterday in a tune-up off of the bullpen mound where he threw fastballs, change-ups and his breaking pitches and finished early feeling some discomfort. Strasburg could be on pace to be part of the NLCS roster if the Nationals are fortunate enough to win this NLDS series and advance.
In the meantime, the relievers have picked up the innings due to the starters not going deep into the games which is part of the post-season strategy where every run is crucial. Sammy Solis and Mark Melancon have pitched in each game. The starters have combined for 14 2/3 innings allowing 9 runs.
Here is how the first 3 games stacked up for the pitchers:
- Max Scherzer 6
- Sammy Solis 2
- Mark Melancon 1
- Tanner Roark 4 1/3
- Marc Rzepczynski 1 1/3
- Sammy Solis 1/3
- Blake Treinen 1 1/3
- Oliver Perez 2/3
- Mark Melancon 1
- Gio Gonzalez 4 1/3
- Sammy Solis 1 2/3
- Oliver Perez 1/3
- Shawn Kelley 1 2/3
- Mark Melancon 1
The Nationals have names that few know outside of the Nats’ fanbase. These are players who have flown below the radar. It is a next man up philosophy when the phone rings in the bullpen.
“Maybe we don’t have the fancy names, the household names that other teams have,” Shawn Kelley said. “But if you go back and you really look at our season, we’ve had some special seasons and some guys that have been really big this year.”
The bullpen had so many candidates for the post-season roster that Yusmeiro Petit, Matt Belisle, Trevor Gott, Rafael Martin, Matt Grace, and Sean Burnett did not make the NLDS roster, but all remain with the team. Our sources have told us that Gott, Martin, and Grace along with starters A.J. Cole and Mat Latos all are still working out back in Washington, D.C. under the direction of Tim Redding while Burnett and Belisle have both traveled with the team and are working out with Mike Maddux.
“I think it’s just awesome to see, because there were doubters this season, as to the strength of our bullpen, and I think we’re proving everyone wrong right now,” Sammy Solis said. “I think going into the postseason, people probably questioned what we can do, but we’re showing everybody right now that we’re the real deal and we’re here to finish up tomorrow.”
Here is a chart we have compiled of the pitching statistics in the NLDS:
In the regular season, the Nationals bullpen ranked 2nd in the MLB with a 3.37 ERA, 3rd with a 1.19 WHIP, and 5th in OPS of .673.
“I think it gives us confidence,” Jayson Werth said. “We’re always in a game. We’ve never out of it. Even when we’re behind, we can tack on runs when we’re behind. I feel like the bullpen is going to hold up, and might not have been the case or the feeling in years past.”
Jayson Werth would know. He lived through the blown saves in 2012 and 2014, and witnessed a young reliever wild pitch away the final game of 2014 in the post-season.
“Nobody cares about what role or what inning,” Shawn Kelley said. “All year it’s been about: ‘I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna get the outs Dusty asks me to get. And then the next guy’s going to come in behind me…’ It’s a unique bullpen. I’ve never seen a group of guys that are so tight and care about each other and care about the team.”
Next man up.