WASHINGTON — The Nationals, with the best record in the National League, are off to an exquisite start this season. But even with their 21-12 record, their bullpen sports a league-worst 5.47 ERA and .287 batting average against.
For comparison, a 4.10 ERA and .245 BAA is league average.
Nationals General Manager and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo didn’t mince words when discussing his ailing bullpen.
“They’ve been bad. Last in the league,” he told The Sports Junkies during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance on Wednesday. “We’ve got the best record in the National League and our bullpen’s been the worst in the National League.”
“Yeah, you’ve got to own it that they haven’t pitched well,” he said. “How do you fix it is the question that we’re trying to answer. First and foremost, I think you have to get your three best relievers healthy. You open the season with [Shawn] Kelley, [Koda] Glover and [Sammy] Solis on the disabled list, it’s tough. Now you’re dependent on players and relievers that you didn’t quite want to rely on this early in the season and you can see the result.”
“We’re paying for it,” he said. “Kelley and Glover are very, very close to returning. I think that’ll be a big shot in the arm for these guys. I think we establish some consistent roles in the bullpen. Hey, I’ve got to trust the track record and the stuff and the past performance of these guys to believe that there’s better days coming.”
For those who don’t know, Rizzo has a prodigious memory for recalling statistics entirely top-of-mind. He put this mental wizardry on display to express why he believes, over the long haul, his relievers’ track records will bear out.
“Do you trust Joe Blanton’s 80 games of a 2.50 ERA last season or his 12 games with a 9.75?” he said. “Or [Blake] Treinen’s last three years; 2.49 ERA, 3.86 ERA, 2.29 ERA last year in 73 games? Kelley’s been 2.45, 2.64 the last two years — you’ve got a 5.40 this year.”
*Blanton had a 2.48 ERA over 75 games (80 innings pitched) in 2016.
*Treinen’s ERA over the last three years: 2.49 (2014), 3.86 (2015), 2.28 in 73 games (2016).
*Kelley’s ERA in 2015, 2016, respectively: 2.45, 2.64; this year: 5.40.
“I think you have to believe in the process,” Rizzo said. “I think you have to trust your eyes that their stuff is good. I think you have to trust their track record. I believe in these guys. I still believe that when these guys are healthy, this is a very, very good bullpen that can help us win a lot of games, and I’m not getting off that until they prove me wrong.”
“The problem is I think I may have more confidence in the bullpen than the bullpen has confidence in themselves, so that’s got to change,” he said. “We’ve got to figure this thing out. We’ve got to do things that puts them in position to succeed and then it’s on the players. We’re treading a little bit of water right now with three of our good relievers out on the disabled list and guys pitching in unfamiliar roles.
“But hey, that’s baseball, you know what I mean? We have to survive and move on until we get healthy, and once we get healthy I think we’ll take off. With all that said, best record in the National League. We have a 4.5-game lead. We’ve got a long season ahead of us. I get that. But we have to like and trust the guys we’ve got and we do.”
Rizzo went on to definitively state the Nationals are not actively looking for bullpen help: “‘We’re not actively out in the trade market looking for bullpen help right now. No. We’re gonna trust that, once we get our guys back, we’ll evaluate where we’re at and we’ll see if things improve. If they don’t, then we’ll have to make other adjustments. We’ve never been afraid to make moves during the season before and we won’t again.”