Nats bol­ster bullpen but don’t give up farm

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Jorge L. Or­tiz

There’s more than one way to build a bullpen. In the case of the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, any ar­range­ment was bet­ter than what they had.

Man­ager Dusty Baker’s pleas for re­lief help were fi­nally an­swered Sun­day — a day af­ter the Na­tion­als threat­ened to squan­der a 10- 0 lead in the last two in­nings — when they ob­tained Ryan Mad­son and Sean Doolit­tle from the Oak­land Ath­let­ics for Blake Treinen and two mi­nor lea­guers.

At this stage in their ca­reers, nei­ther of Wash­ing­ton’s ac­qui­si­tions qualifies as a shut- down closer but both have clos­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and form a for­mi­da­ble pair in matchup sit­u­a­tions.

Baker will take them, hap­pily. Heck, he might pick them up at the air­port.

The Na­tion­als knew they were tak­ing a chance go­ing into the sea­son without a proven closer af­ter los­ing Mark Me­lan­con in free agency. They went hard af­ter Ken­ley Jansen but failed de­spite out­bid­ding the Los An­ge­les Dodgers, who lured him back.

The de­fend­ing Na­tional League East champs started the sea­son ex­per­i­ment­ing with Treinen as their closer, and that soon went awry. Koda Glover showed prom­ise but got hurt, and for the most part the bullpen has been an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter, yield­ing the worst ERA ( 5.34), op­po­nents’ bat­ting av­er­age (. 280) and on­base plus slug­ging per­cent­age (. 825) in the ma­jors. Its 14 blown saves are tied for third most in the league.

Only the Na­tion­als’ com­mand­ing lead in their wa­tered- down di­vi­sion, built on a po­tent of­fense and sturdy ro­ta­tion, has made the bullpen woes semi- palat­able. But they couldn’t go into Oc­to­ber with such a weak­ness, es­pe­cially af­ter reach­ing the post­sea­son in three of the last five years and get­ting bounced in the first round each time.

Wash­ing­ton had long been ru­mored to be pur­su­ing Chicago White Sox closer David Robert­son, who could be had for the right price, but the clubs couldn’t agree on that price. The Na­tion­als were loath to give up any of their top prospects — out­field­ers Vic­tor Robles and Juan Soto, pitcher Erick Fedde and short­stop Carter Kieboom — and in deal­ing with the A’s, they didn’t have to.

Class A in­fielder Shel­don Neuse and rookie league lefty Je­sus Luzardo, sent to Oak­land along with Treinen, were ranked by MLB. com as Wash­ing­ton’s sixth- and 10th- best prospects.

Keep­ing their lead­ing mi­nor league tal­ent enhances the Na­tion­als’ op­tions if they de­cide to pur­sue fur­ther help. They’re prob­a­bly not done deal­ing.

Even if they are, the Na­tion­als have sig­nif­i­cantly boosted the bullpen with two sea­soned latein­ning re­liev­ers who com­ple­ment each other and free the likes of Enny Romero and Matt Al­bers to pitch in less- pres­sur­ized sit­u­a­tions.

Mad­son, 36, went 30- for- 37 in save op­por­tu­ni­ties last sea­son, then ex­celled in a setup role this year, putting up a 2.06 ERA and 0.788 WHIP while strik­ing out 39 in 391⁄ in­nings. He has been es­pe­cially tough on right- handed hit­ters, hold­ing them to a .177 bat­ting av­er­age and a .479 OPS.

Left- handed Doolit­tle, 30, is mur­der on lefty hit­ters, who are 0- for- 23 with 12 strike­outs against him this sea­son. Over­all, he has a 3.38 ERA but a 0.656 WHIP and has struck out 31 while walk­ing two. The main con­cern with Doolit­tle is a his­tory of shoul­der woes.

Mad­son and Doolit­tle are un­der con­tract at least through next sea­son, when they will earn a com­bined to­tal of nearly $ 12 mil­lion. Though not a huge fig­ure, that’s money the A’s would just as soon ap­por­tion else­where as they re­make a club that ap­pears headed for a third last- place fin­ish in a row.

Oak­land has been pro­mot­ing its best prospects and con­tin­ues to add young pieces as part of a re­vamp­ing that likely will in­clude the de­par­ture of All- Star first base­man Yon­der Alonso, in­fielder Jed Lowrie and pos­si­bly staff ace Sonny Gray, all avail­able to con­tenders seek­ing up­grades.

The Na­tion­als fit that def­i­ni­tion.


Re­liever Ryan Mad­son has held right- handed hit­ters to a .177 bat­ting av­er­age this year.

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