The wait is finally over: baseball season is officially back as Nationals spring training workouts are under way at the Ball Park of the Palm Beaches. Although General Manager Mike Rizzo has not made as many moves as in previous years, there is still a lot to watch for as Opening Day quickly approaches.
During the offseason, the Nationals were able to re-sign Brandon Kintzler to a 2-year, $10 million deal. Kintzler should slot back in to the 7th inning and keep intact the formidable trio of relief pitchers that includes Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, all of whom were acquired at last year’s trade deadline.
Outside of those three, there is not much certainty with who will be a part of Dave Martinez’s Opening Day bullpen. Most of the other candidates come with some question marks of their own. Enny Romero is a hard throwing lefty, but he has yet to establish secondary pitches and has been inconsistent with his command. Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover have flashed brilliance at times while wearing the ‘Curly W’, but carry many uncertainties when it comes to staying healthy.
Sammy Solis and Matt Grace are two other candidates, but it is unknown if they can get right handed batters out on a consistent basis. The performance of these pitchers is definitely something Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals’ front office will keep an eye on as spring training progresses. If their performance is not up to standards or injuries are persistent, look for Rizzo to find veteran pieces to bolster the bullpen depth.
It looks as if the Nationals will once again have an elite starting rotation going into the regular season. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are bonafide aces at the top of the rotation. Gio Gonzalez looks to build on a strong 2017 season, while Tanner Roark tries to bounce back from an up and down year.
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But the pitcher to occupy the final spot in the Nationals rotation has yet to be determined. The Nats were rumored to be in talks with former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta during the winter, but those rumors never gained any traction. Edwin Jackson re-signed with the team this offseason, but seems to only be minor league depth after pitching to a 5.07 ERA in 13 starts with Washington last year.
This leaves Erick Fedde and A.J. Cole as the frontrunners for the final rotation spot. Fedde started the 2017 season ranked as the #2 prospect in the Nationals’ system and the #52 prospect in the MLB, according to Baseball America. The UNLV product had high hopes when he made his Major League debut in July, but struggled mightily while pitching to a 9.39 ERA in three starts. Even though the little action he did see in the majors is a cause for concern, it should be noted that Fedde had to deal with shuffling between starting and relief work.
A.J. Cole is a different story. Cole, who is 26 years old, still has only pitched less than 100 innings in the MLB, even though it seems as if he has been around forever. He seems to have settled in at this level though, pitching to a 3.81 ERA in 11 appearances last season. It seems to be a two man fight, and while Cole may be the favorite, do not be surprised if Fedde wins the job.
It was a pretty uneventful offseason for the Nationals, but there are still many questions to be answered. This team has high expectations for 2018, and the choices that Martinez and Rizzo make may set the tone for the upcoming season.