Here's who could make Nats' 2023 bullpen

March 26th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The picture of the Nationals’ bullpen has become more clear as camp winds down.

Four of Washington’s five official roster moves on Saturday involved relievers. Right-hander Paolo Espino was optioned to Triple-A, and righties Alex Colomé, Andrés Machado and Wily Peralta were reassigned to Minor League camp. Manager Dave Martinez also announced right-hander Víctor Arano will remain at the Nats’ training complex as he recovers from a right shoulder impingement.

In the final weekend of Spring Training, there are eight bullpen candidates in Major League camp: is the sole southpaw, alongside righties , , , , , and Thad Ward (the club’s No. 12 prospect, per MLB Pipeline).

While this group could end up being the Opening Day bullpen, the Nats are weighing their options with one game remaining in Grapefruit League action and an exhibition game on Tuesday at Nationals Park.

“There’s no set roster right now,” Martinez said prior to the Nationals’ 6-1 loss to the Astros. “We still have decisions to make. We probably won’t make any decisions until we go back to D.C.”

Every club has different needs when it comes to its bullpen. For Washington, stretching multiple innings is a priority. Last season, Nationals relievers accumulated 638 frames, the fourth-most in the NL. Their effectiveness was exhibited by their 3.84 ERA. To that point, Ward -- a starter at the Minor League level -- and Ramírez -- a former starter who made two spot starts last season -- pitched one-plus frames in relief on Saturday.

“The biggest thing for me is, ‘Limit the damage and don’t walk people,’” Martinez said. “One thing I always tell them coming out of the bullpen is, ‘Our defense is going to be better. So put the ball in play, trust your teammates and go get ‘em.’”

As the Nationals construct this group, they are not locked in on a specific closer. Finnegan stepped into the role after Tanner Rainey underwent Tommy John surgery last season, but it would not be unlikely for another late-inning reliever -- like Harvey, who allowed only one home run in 38 appearances last season – to see save opportunities.

“Those are the conversations I’m going to have here in the next few days about how we’re going to do this,” said Martinez. “Some days, I really feel like the big inning could be the eighth or the seventh inning, and I’m going to delegate who that might be for that series and somebody else might close. But Kyle’s done a good job for us in those high-leverage situations. … We’ve got some guys I think that are qualified to finish games out for us, with Finnegan, Harvey, maybe some days [Edwards].”

The relievers who join the Nationals ‘pen this season will be part of a close-knit group. Rule 5 Draft pick Ward and Harris are pursuing their Major League debuts, while Banda is looking to join his seventh big league team. The Nats’ bullpen chemistry was exhibited Saturday afternoon when recent retiree Steve Cishek visited the team and sat on the couches inside the clubhouse with his 2022 season teammates without missing a beat.

“The one thing I do know is that our bullpen did really well last year, and they get another season under their belt,” said Martinez. “For the most part, they’ve been together. It’s a good group. They’re close. It really doesn’t bother them at all to see who’s doing what or what particular time. They all pull for one another, and I love that about them.”