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Baker's closer criteria: Durable, gritty, focused

Manager adamant it's too early in spring for favorites to emerge
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's still too early in Spring Training for anyone to have emerged in the competition for the Nationals' closer job, at least for manager Dusty Baker, who said his staff has had brief initial discussions about filling the role.

The Nats seem likely to turn to either Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen or perhaps newly signed reliever Joe Blanton to take over the ninth inning after they were unsuccessful in landing an experienced closer in the offseason. It is near impossible to duplicate the intensity of a late-game high-leverage situation during the Grapefruit League, so Baker offered some insight into what he will look for before he names his new closer.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's still too early in Spring Training for anyone to have emerged in the competition for the Nationals' closer job, at least for manager Dusty Baker, who said his staff has had brief initial discussions about filling the role.

The Nats seem likely to turn to either Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen or perhaps newly signed reliever Joe Blanton to take over the ninth inning after they were unsuccessful in landing an experienced closer in the offseason. It is near impossible to duplicate the intensity of a late-game high-leverage situation during the Grapefruit League, so Baker offered some insight into what he will look for before he names his new closer.

"Which guy has the stomach," Baker said. "Which guy has the ability to forget yesterday and which guy really wants the ball in that pressure situation."

"It has to be a person that's durable," he said. "A person that can go back-to-back-to-back days, because that's usually when saves come. You might not have a save for a week then you got three or four next week. And you have to have a person that can stay sharp during those periods when he's not pitching."

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Although relief roles are becoming less defined in today's game, Baker dismissed the idea of using a "closer by committee" and said he plans on naming one person to the role by the end of the spring. Baker also said he plans to lean on new catcher Matt Wieters to help him determine who would fit best as a closer. Wieters spent a good portion of his time in Baltimore catching Zach Britton, who is regarded as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.

So far the process this spring has not felt like a competition, mostly because Kelley and Treinen have downplayed it. But the Nationals have said they are confident about each of their options, even if they lack experience closing games.

"We feel good about the guys that we're going to run out there," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Let's not forget, we were No. 2 in baseball last year [in bullpen ERA] with just about the same components of relievers."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals