Rainy weather: Nats Bullpen gets an All-Star Break in May

Norman Rockwell painting

It’s supposed to be April showers bring May flowers not May showers bring baseball rain-outs. That does not even rhyme! The highly anticipated 2-game series against the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday became casualties of Mother Nature’s wrath moving both games to June 18th beginning at 5:05 pm. The Nationals will be returning from a Father’s Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays the day before, and the Yankees will be traveling a much shorter distance from N.Y.C. for these games. 

For the Nationals, the meteorologists at the Capital Weather Gang give a wet and gloomy forecast for Friday and Saturday also for the Nationals series against the Dodgers. The Nationals had already decided to reseed their starting rotation but oddly are keeping Jeremy Hellickson and Gio Gonzalez bunched together in the rotation. They are the two starters who have been most guilty of taxing the Nationals bullpen. Gonzalez has only averaged 5.52 innings per start and Hellickson at 5.45. What could shock you is Stephen Strasburg leads the staff in going deepest in games at 6.71. For comparison it means that during Gio starts vs Strasburg/Scherzer combination is an extra 10 innings that the bullpen has had to absorb this season. Over the course of a full season, that’s an extra 39 innings the bullpen would pick-up on Gio starts versus the Nats most reliable starters.

Sammy Solis leads the Major Leagues in appearances at 23 games and another 12-times Solis warmed up and was not used in a game. His mates known as “The Firm” have also been pushed hard with Ryan Madson (21 games) and Brandon Kintzler (22 games) not far behind. Sean Doolittle, who is the team’s closer, is the only back-end reliever who has his numbers in check at 18 appearances. If you project Solis out at this pace, he will be a game shy of 90 games if manager Dave Martinez keeps phoning him.

These rain-outs have allowed those relievers to reset like it’s the All-Star break which sets up the season nicely as the “real” All-Star 4-day break begins less than 2 months away from now.

Last year Matt Albers was the Nats workhorse out of the bullpen at 63 games for the Nationals. Ryan Madson appeared in 63 games between the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals and Sean Doolittle had 60 combined games last year. Matt Grace was supposed to be this year’s workhorse but he was put on the DL with a groin strain and Koda Glover has been on the DL for the entire season so far with shoulder tendinitis.

The biggest need today for this team is a Matt Albers clone. In baseball today, teams have created “super” bullpens which are comprised of generally six-to-seven relievers who a manager can count on and plug into almost any spot. The only reason the Nationals bullpen has good statistics is because Dave Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have relied on the back-end relievers who have been excellent. Relying so heavily on your relievers sometimes crosses the line where Ryan Madson was used three games in a row from April 16 to April 18 when he threw 58 pitches combined. Some would say that’s nothing compared to the Jonathan Papelbon 5-day burn-out (76 pitches) of 2016 or Trevor Gott who threw 59 pitches in less than 24 hours last year under the watchful eye of Dusty Baker who had the reputation of burning out pitchers. Fortunately we hope that Davey Martinez has learned an important lesson on handling his bullpen assets.

“He told me before the game he was available,” Dave Martinez said about using Madson 3-games in a row which was the same excuse Dusty Baker used on July 24th of 2016 throwing Papelbon the same 58 pitches 3-games in a row.

As mentioned, the Nationals are not close to the worst bullpen in the Major Leagues. The group ranks 21st in the Majors as a group in ERA, however and most important, the group ranks 11th in saving games converted.

The bottomline here is someone(s) has to step up from the bullpen be it Wander Suero or Trevor Gott or else general manager Mike Rizzo is going to have to look outside of the organization for help in a mid-season trade.

Bryce Harper used his time last night to park himself in front of the television in his Crystal City condo and watch his hometown Vegas Golden Knights play and win last night in the Western Conference Finals. Bryce and Michael Taylor have played in every game except for one, and Trea Turner has played in every game this season.

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