There isn’t much difference between the Opening Day 2013 Nationals bullpen and the 2014 variety, but even small changes can have major impacts. Gone are Zach Duke, Henry Rodriguez, and Ryan Mattheus replaced by Ross Detwiler, Aaron Barrett, and Jerry Blevins. Add that to the incumbents Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Craig Stammen and the Nationals bullpen doesn’t have a bad choice. It is early in the season and perhaps the dreaded blower will emerge as the season progresses but the Nationals bullpen is full of both talent and pedigree and if all the relievers pitch to their expected averages then the bullpen will be a strength of the team.
Compare this to last season where there were definite bad choices. Henry Rodriguez was a project and a mop-up man to be avoided in a close or tied game and Zach Duke was a long reliever that lacked the stuff to even make it through three outs without surrendering multiple runs. Matt Williams could draw names out of a hat and it would be a good choice whereas Davey Johnson had pitchers that could only be used in loses and that isn’t the type of bullpen he envisioned.
In 2013 Davey Johnson would call-up relievers when he shouldn’t. He used Henry Rodriguez in extra innings of a tie game, Yunesky Maya in a game in which Maya was only called up as a possible emergency long reliever in case the starter couldn’t go five, and both Craig Stammen and Drew Storen appeared in their most games when they were struggling at their worst. That last one has little to do with the talent of the players and it is yet to be seen how Matt Williams handles struggling relievers but with the bullpen he has been given he has the ability to stay away from reliever in a slump when he needs to.
It is always easy to use a bullpen when everyone is going right, and to start the season the Nationals have seen reliever after reliever come in and dominate. It has only been one series but Drew Storen looks to have picked up where he left off in 2013 and a refreshed Drew Storen is a strong weapon the 2013 bullpen lacked. When you think about that bullpen of the first few months of 2013 it really only had three reliable pitchers. With the project of Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke as the long reliever the Nationals were already down to five relievers they could use in close or tie games and when Storen and Mattheus struggled that number fell to three. Replacing Duke and Rodriguez with Detwiler and Blevins strengthens the Nats bullpen by immeasurable degrees. Add to that a productive Drew Storen and the young Aaron Barrett and the Nats bullpen is seven deep.
Players will struggle as the year goes along, but the depth of the Nationals bullpen is better in 2014 than it was in 2013. The Nats had to rely on Astros cast-off Fernando Abad and rookie Ian Krol for much of last season. Both had their moments but weren’t great overall. When the Nationals need to call on an extra reliever this year they have the option of going to Ryan Mattheus, Christian Garcia, Mike Gonzalez, and Xavier Cedeno who all have major league experience or they could go to prospects Richie Miroswski or Blake Treinen.
The Nationals 2014 bullpen has started stronger than 2013, is more talented than 2013, and the depth in minors is better than it was in 2013. A Nationals bullpen that let too many opponents back into games and couldn’t hold ties in extra innings has been restructured and is much stronger in 2014. Early signs indicate that what was a weakness for the 2013 Nationals is going to be a strength of the 2014 Nats.