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Nationals' Top 5 relief pitchers: Camerato's take

@jessicacamerato
June 8, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their careers while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their careers while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only.

Here is Jessica Camerato’s ranking of the Top 5 relievers in Nationals/Expos franchise history. Next week: Top manager(s).

• Nationals/Expos all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | RHP | LHP

1. Jeff Reardon, Expos (1981-86)
Key fact: Reardon is the franchise leader in saves (152).

Reardon played six of his 16 Major League seasons in Montreal. During that time, the right-hander pitched to a 2.84 ERA and garnered consecutive All-Star selections in 1985 and '86, the first of which also saw him earn the National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award.

En route to earning the most saves in franchise history, Reardon led all of baseball with 41 in 1985. In that category during his tenure with the Expos, he never placed lower than sixth among NL pitchers, and his career mark of 367 ranks 10th all time.

Reardon earned two saves while finishing out three games in the 1981 NL Division Series against the Phillies, allowing one run, one hit and a walk in 4 1/3 innings.

Among pitchers in Nationals/Expos history with a minimum of 500 innings, Reardon’s ERA ranks third behind Tim Burke and Max Scherzer. Along with a 8.3 bWAR in Montreal, Reardon is first in games finished with 281.

2. Tim Burke, Expos (1985-91)
Key fact: Burke owns the lowest ERA (2.61) among all franchise pitchers who threw a minimum of 500 innings.

Burke wore an Expos uniform in all but one of his eight seasons in the big leagues. In just his first year, the righty led NL hurlers by appearing in 78 games. That set the pace for Burke to become the franchise leader in games pitched (425) for Montreal.

Burke earned an All-Star nod in 1989, when he recorded a 2.55 ERA alongside a career-high 28 saves. All told, the Nebraska native went 43-26 over 600 1/3 innings. He also ranks second among franchise relievers with 228 games finished, and he is sixth in saves with 101. Burke compiled a 12.1 WAR with the Expos.

3. Sean Doolittle, Nationals (2017-present) and Daniel Hudson, Nationals (2019-present)
Key fact: Doolittle and Hudson anchored the bullpen for the Nationals' first World Series in franchise history.

This duo of relievers got the job done in historic fashion. Last year, Doolittle and Hudson combined to throw 20 postseason frames and earned six saves in the Nationals’ World Series run.

Doolittle is tied for the eighth-most saves in Nationals-Expos history with 75. In 2019, the lefty led NL relievers in games finished with 55 and ranked sixth with a career-high 29 saves. Doolittle threw 1 1/3 perfect innings in both Game 1 of the NL Championship Series and Game 1 of the World Series, helping set the tone for each matchup. Overall, he is 10-8 with a 2.87 ERA over 135 innings in 136 regular-season games with Washington.

In his first season with the Nationals, Hudson went 3-0 in 24 regular-season games with a 1.44 ERA over 25 innings. The image of him chucking his glove in celebration after recording the final out of the World Series is etched in Nats lore. In that deciding performance, Hudson struck out two of the three batters he faced and needed only 12 pitches to help Washington claim the title.

4. Mike Marshall, Expos (1970-73)
Key Fact: Marshall was named the Expos' Player of the Year by the BBWAA in '72 and '73.

Marshall holds franchise records among relievers in multiple categories. His 124 strikeouts in 1973 are the most in a single season, along with his 179 innings pitched and 92 appearances. Marshall is tied with Doolittle for eighth most saves (75) in franchise history, and he accumulated a 6.5 WAR and 2.94 ERA with Montreal.

5. Tyler Clippard, Nationals (2008-14)
Key fact: Clippard’s 414 games are the second most by a pitcher in franchise history.

Clippard accumulated a 10.1 WAR, 2.68 ERA and 530 strikeouts in his seven years in Washington -- by far the most time the nomadic hurler has spent with one franchise. During that time, he picked up 34 saves and finished 88 games over 464 innings. Clippard's 28.5 strikeout rate trails only that of Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg among franchise pitchers (minimum of 300 innings).

The right-hander was named to his first All-Star team in 2011, a season in which he posted a 1.83 ERA and had the highest win probability added (5.2) in baseball. The following year, Clippard earned 10 saves in 12 games with no earned runs allowed in a remarkable month of June. He appeared in six postseason games for the Nationals in '12 and '14 and allowed just one run in six innings over those two first-round series combined.

Honorable mentions
Chad Cordero, Expos and Nationals (2003-08): Cordero made his Major League debut in 2003 with the Expos, and just two years later, as he moved across the border with the franchise, had a standout season. The right-hander earned his lone All-Star selection in '05 for a campaign in which he led MLB in saves and posted a 1.82 ERA. He also set franchise marks for most pre All-Star break saves (31) and tied an MLB mark with 15 saves in a single month in June.

As a franchise cult hero, Cordero went 20-14 with a 2.78 ERA and 128 saves (second in club history) over 320 2/3 frames in 305 games (all out of the bullpen, eighth in club history). He also had a 7.6 WAR.

Mel Rojas, Expos (1990-96, '99): Rojas donned an Expos uniform to begin and conclude his 10-year Major League career. Over eight seasons in Montreal, he went 29-23, tallying a 3.11 ERA and 9.1 WAR over 512 1/3 innings. In 1992, his ERA was a career-best 1.43 across a career-high 100 2/3 innings.

Rojas, a right-hander, ranks fourth in franchise history in saves (109) and games pitched (388, all relief appearances). He also is eighth among all Nationals/Expos pitchers in ERA. Rojas signed with the Expos in May of 1999 to play in his final three big league games, and he was released that July.

Drew Storen, Nationals (2010-15): Storen began his career with the Nationals, playing his first six years in Washington. He tossed 334 innings out of the bullpen for a 21-13 record, 3.02 ERA and 95 saves. Like Clippard, whom he shared the closer role with, Storen’s strikeout percentage ranks high in franchise history. At 23.4 percent, he is sixth -- behind Pedro Martinez -- among the franchise's hurlers (minimum 300 innings).

In the postseason, the right-handed Storen earned the save in Game 1 and the win in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS, but those performances were muddied when, staked to a 7-5 lead, he conceded four runs in the ninth inning of Game 5 to hand the series to the Cardinals. He finished five of the six playoff games he pitched for Washington in '12 and '14.

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.