WASHINGTON -- This offseason, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo tried to add a second left-handed reliever. He had interest in free agents Mike Gonzalez and J.P. Howell, but they signed elsewhere.
But Rizzo may not have to shop for that second left-hander after all. Enter Bill Bray, who is making a return to the nation's capital after signing a Minor League deal in December. He believes he could be a situational lefty out of the bullpen.
Bray, 29, has had success as a lefty specialist. His best season came in 2008, when he had a 2.87 ERA and struck out 54 in 47 innings over 63 games. And when the Reds won the National League Central in 2010, left-handed hitters had a .106 batting average against Bray.
"I can definitely bring experience as far as coming in with men on base and getting lefties out," Bray said via telephone.
This past season, Bray was sidelined often with back and groin problems. He says he is healthy and looks forward to helping the Nats return to the postseason.
"I'm really looking forward to the opportunity," Bray said. "The things I had battled during my career are injuries. There are a lot of freak injuries -- whether it's blowing out my elbow, tendinitis, groin issue last season that turned into a back problem. I don't know why they happened. They do. I did my best to battle through them. But I do know when I'm healthy, I'm pretty good [on the mound]. I can do my job and I can do the job that they are asking."
It seems like yesterday that Bray started his professional career with the Expos/Nationals. A native of Virginia Beach, Va., Bray was the organization's top pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. While with Triple-A New Orleans a year later, Bray worked with Steve McCatty and Randy Knorr, who were coaches at the time.
Bray was in the big leagues by 2006. He was shy and hardly said two words to the media. Bray now admits that he didn't want to say anything to anger his teammates. Today, he is confident in his abilities and has a lot to say when it comes to baseball matters.
"Hopefully, it's not coming across as being arrogant," Bray said. "My confidence level has changed. I'm a little bit older now. I'll be 30 this year. At 21, you really didn't know if you belonged. You wanted to belong, so you just kept a low profile. I didn't want to say anything that would make the guys dislike me. I just wanted to fit in. I just kept my head down."
Before Bray could establish himself with the Nationals, then-general manager Jim Bowden traded him to the Reds in an eight-player deal during the All-Star break in 2006. Seven years later, Bray is back with the Nats, and it helps he is reunited with McCatty and Knorr, who are familiar with Bray.
"That helps when you are trying to re-establish yourself. There are people in the organization who know what I can do when I'm healthy. That's a big aspect of that," Bray said. "After watching the organization grow from afar over the last few years, I wouldn't have mind playing for the Nationals. I loved playing in D.C. the first time around. ... Now, I know I belong and I know I can do the job. I'm just more confident in my abilities and myself."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.