By Brian Tinsman

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals cycled through a number of closers last season before finally trading for Mark Melancon at the trade deadline. He brought stability and consistency to the lineup, so, naturally, he left this offseason, leaving the Nats back at square one.

Where will the team turn for its ninth inning show stopper? If all goes well this Spring, a candidate will emerge via internal options or external acquisition. But even if there isn’t a clear winner, there will be a closer named.

“Well without a real bona fide closer, like I said, somebody always emerges,” Baker told reporters in Florida. “I don’t like by-committee because when the phone rings, I want our guys to know mentally when they might be in the game.”

That means that the job will be someone’s to lose by the time the team heads north. If that pitcher doesn’t perform well, he will be replaced by the next man up.

“”if we have to still tweak and experiment, I mean last year, don’t forget, we didn’t start out knowing the roles of the guys here other than Pap (Jonathan Papelbon),” Baker reasoned. “We didn’t know where we were gonna use (Shawn) Kelley, we didn’t know when we were gonna use a lot of the guys that ended up emerging. But we learned which guys can pitch a lot and which guys have been injured and which guys need some rest and time off.

“In Kelley’s case, we had to watch and monitor Kelley because Kelley’s one of the guys I was talking about that’s had two Tommy Johns. I mean, he seems the likely candidate, but we gotta see can his arm sustain?”

Kelley was a pleasant surprise for the Nationals last season, pitching to the tune of 2.64 ERA in 67 games. This was a career high, as was his 26 games finished. These are both low thresholds for a traditional closer.

The best case scenario could still be on the trade front, where the Nationals were considered front runners to land Chicago White Sox closer David Robertson. Unfortunately, the two teams are reportedly at a “stalemate,” but that could change during Spring Training or before the trade deadline in August.

Either way, this will be a key position battle to watch throughout Spring Training.


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