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Nats looking to bolster pitching staff for '14

After Rizzo decides on new skipper, roster will take shape

WASHINGTON -- Dating back to Aug. 9 until the end of the 2013 season, the Nationals owned the best record in baseball, going 32-16. But it wasn't enough to help them go to the postseason.

Injuries, lack of offense in the first half of the season and not having quality lefties in the bullpen were the reasons the Nationals struggled this season. Missing Bryce Harper for more than a month because of a left knee injury was a big blow. He was the guy they missed in the middle of the order.

Now, general manager Mike Rizzo starts the offseason looking for a manager to replace Davey Johnson, who retired after Sunday's game. It wouldn't come as a surprise if Rizzo names a skipper after the World Series. Randy Knorr, Trent Jewett and Matt Williams are managerial candidates.

"The manager is going to have an input on what we do with the roster," Rizzo said.

Once they find their manager, the Nationals must fix a couple of things. They need some lefties out of the bullpen. Letting Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez go after the 2012 season turned out to be a big mistake.

Washington must improve its bench. Steve Lombardozzi was the only productive player when it came to pinch-hitting appearances.

It must fix the back end of the rotation. The team may not need to go out and find a veteran pitcher to help the young pitching staff. It will be interesting to see what the Nationals do during the offseason.

Arbitration-eligible: Left-hander pitcher Ross Detwiler, shortstop Ian Desmond, right-hander Tyler Clippard, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, catcher Wilson Ramos, right-hander Stephen Strasburg, right-hander Drew Storen

Free agents: Right-hander Dan Haren, infielder Chad Tracy, left-handers Fernando Abad and Xavier Cedeno.

Rotation: As of now, the front end is settled with Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. The trio won a combined 38 games.

However, the back end of the rotation needs work -- big time. Haren will not be back because of his inconsistency on the mound. It's still unknown if Ross Detwiler is healthy. He didn't pitch after July 3 because of back problems.

Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan looked impressive during their brief time with the team, but it's not a given they will be in the rotation next year. Rizzo could go out and get another veteran pitcher to help guide the rotation. At the same time, Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez are not rookies anymore and should be able to lead a pitching staff by next year.

Bullpen: What made the bullpen average? Johnson had a tough time finding quality lefties out of the bullpen. The Nationals started the season with Zach Duke as the long man before he was released in June. Then, they went with Abad and Ian Krol, but they were inconsistent. It took until September to realize that Cedeno was a quality left-hander out of the bullpen. Look for Rizzo to look for some quality lefties for 2014.

The back end of the bullpen is fine with Rafael Soriano as the closer and Storen and Clippard as the setup men. Clippard was clearly the best reliever on the Nationals. Johnson even thought he overused Clippard during the season because he didn't have a left-hander who could get left-handed hitters out on a regular basis.

Craig Stamman is expected to be back next season. Ryan Mattheus has to have a great Spring Training to make the team next year.

Catcher: If only Ramos stayed healthy this year, his numbers would be unbelievable. Ramos dealt with hamstring issues during the first half of the season. But when he came back, he was one of Washington's best power hitters.

The Nationals still don't know who their backup catcher will be next year. Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon both had bad years with the bat in the Minor Leagues and weren't given much of a chance in the Major Leagues. It wouldn't come as a surprise if Rizzo tried to acquire a backup catcher via free agency.

First base: Adam LaRoche had one of the toughest seasons of his Major League career, hitting .237 with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs. Those numbers are not even close to the MVP-type numbers he put up for Washington last year.

It didn't helped that LaRoche lost 15 to 20 pounds in recent months. It was believed, at first, that LaRoche was losing the weight because of the flu he caught right after the All-Star break. But LaRoche revealed that the weight loss was caused by the medication he was taking for attention deficit disorder (ADD). LaRoche is expected to fix the problem during the offseason.

There was a possibility of trading LaRoche in order to put Ryan Zimmerman at first base. But with Zimmerman's throwing problems behind him, LaRoche will be the first baseman in 2014.

Second base: It will come down to Anthony Rendon and Lombardozzi fighting for the second base job. For right now, it looks like Rendon has the edge because of the power numbers he could potentially put up. A third baseman by trade, Rendon also was above average with the glove at second.

Lombardozzi was the team's best pinch-hitter and could be in that same role next year. When he played often, Lombardozzi was an asset in the top or bottom of the batting order.

Rizzo insists that Danny Espinosa is in the mix for the starting second base job, but he will likely be traded before Spring Training. If he isn't traded, he will be no more than a backup infielder.

Shortstop: Desmond seems to get better every year. Besides having steady hands at short, Desmond was among the team leaders in home runs and RBIs. The Nationals are hoping that they can sign Desmond to an extension, but he is not taking a team discount to get it done.

Third base: For a while, it looked like the Nationals needed a new third baseman for the first time since 2005. Zimmerman had a tough time throwing the baseball because he was still recovering from shoulder surgery. However, during the month of September, Zimmerman was the Zimmerman of old -- making great backhanded catches and making strong throws to first base. Rizzo said he is not planning to make any changes at third base.

Left field: Can you imagine if Harper stayed healthy? His numbers would probably be off the charts. He missed more than a month of the season after crashing into the right-field wall in Dodger Stadium. He also had some left hip issues. As of now, Harper doesn't believe he needs surgery to repair his knee or hip.

Center field: Denard Span played outstanding defense the entire season. He didn't make an error and should win his first Gold Glove. But it took him a while to get use to National League pitching. Span would put up respectable numbers, thanks to a 29-game hitting streak, the highest in the Major Leagues.

Right field: Jayson Werth staved off injuries and was the MVP of the team. He led the team in almost every major offensive category including home runs, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, Wilson Ramos, Rafael Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard