WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Halfway into Spring Training, the Nationals bullpen is still a work in progress.
The Opening Day closer has yet to be determined. That’s because manager Dusty Baker hasn’t had the chance to use the four major candidates in pressure situations in Spring Training games.
“Most of the time in the ninth, you’re not usually closing against Major League players,” he explained of the nature of spring games. “We’ve put potential guys in the fourth or fifth, but generally speaking your big hitters are out of there by then.”
Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis and Koda Glover are believed to be the main contenders. However, only Kelly has any experience finishing games on the Major League level. He has 11 career saves, seven of which came last year. Treinen got his lone save last season as well. For both Solis and Glover, their next save will be their first.
With such inexperience, it’s very possible the Nationals’ eventual closer is not yet with the team. They could acquire a veteran arm by trading one of their surplus of catchers, though they were unable to move the recently reacquired Derek Norris, releasing him earlier this week.
Of the current contenders, each has thrown five or fewer innings so far. Glover is off to the fastest start this spring, having struck out eight batters while allowing a single hit in five frames. Treinen has nearly matched him, fanning six over three scoreless innings. Kelley has allowed one run, while Solis has given up three in three innings apiece in their small samples so far.
One thing they all have in common – each would love the closers role.
Solis isn’t shying away from the possibility.
“That would be a lot of fun,” he said. “I’d take that. I want the ball in the tough situation late in the game.”
Glover says he likes high-pressure situations.
“That’s how I am. That’s how I like to play. Baseball can turn into a boring sport. High-leverage situations are never boring, so I love that.”
Does that mean Glover is an adrenalin junkie? He says no.
“I don’t get much adrenalin and stuff. It’s fun to me. I like having my back against the wall. That’s how I’ve lived my life. I enjoy that.”
Treinen is believed to be the favorite to win the ninth-inning job. He pitched the seventh and eighth innings for the Nationals last year.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a premier bullpen arm?” he asked. “When you’re called on with the game on the line, it’s fun.”
The veteran of the group, Kelley says it doesn’t matter to him whether he pitches the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning.
“The roles will work themselves out,” he said. “If we have a closer in this locker room, it will be a great one and we’ll win a lot of games.”
No matter who takes the ball in the ninth inning, all four relievers hope it goes to someone from their own clubhouse.
“I think we have the tools and the guys to do it,” said Solis. “Our bullpen had a lot of success last year and I think we’re going to carry that into this season.”
“We’re all cheering for each other,” said Treinen. “When our bullpen was healthy last year, it didn’t matter who was throwing in the ninth, didn’t matter who was throwing in the eighth. We had guys in the back of the bullpen that could do whatever role they needed to and that’s how it’s going to be this year.”
Treinen, though, knows the scenario is out of their hands.
“We’ll leave the decision-making to the guys at the top, because that’s what they’re good at.”