VIERA, Fla. — With Opening Day just five days away, the Nationals got several encouraging performances out of their relievers Friday night that could go a long way towards helping to define the bullpen roles that, to this point, had yet to shake out.
After Tom Gorzelanny threw six innings, allowing two earned runs off four hits and a walk in the Nationals’ 3-2 victory over St. Louis, Chad Gaudin, Doug Slaten and Drew Storen followed with three straight innings of scoreless relief.
While Slaten has been solid this spring, and assured a spot as one of the team’s only two left-handed relievers, the performances of Gaudin and Storen were notable.
It was the first relief appearance of the spring for Gaudin, who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals in December and was expected to compete for the fifth starter role or be used in long relief. Pitching in his first major league game since March 10, Gaudin was brought in to begin the seventh and needed 11 pitches to retire the side in a hitless inning.
“It’s good to get some innings out there and be able to not have that luxury to go in and walk a guy or give up a hit,” Gaudin said. “You’ve got to go in, nails, ready to go like you’ve been pitching for five innings.
It’s something that is definitely an adjustment that has to be made from starting to the bullpen. I’ve done it before and I’m comfortable doing it.”
Gaudin has pitched 252 innings as a reliever, compared to 409.2 as a starter, and has worked to a 4.43 ERA in 183 games. He’s held opponents to a .267 batting average and a .347 on-base percentage. As a starter, he’s got a 4.72 ERA and held opponents to a .273 average and a .357 OBP.
Probably the most versatile guy in the Nationals’ bullpen, Gaudin can be used to spot start, in long relief and could potentially see action as a late-inning reliever as well.
“When I came in I first said, ‘Of course, I want to be a starter,’” Gaudin said. “But I want to help the team. Whatever’s best for the team, at the end of the day, is what I’ll be here to do.”
— Drew Storen picked up his second save in as many chances Friday night, getting a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts and a ground out.
It was the third straight positive outing for the right-hander who went through a severe rut in the middle of the spring schedule. With this latest outing in the rearview mirror, Riggleman said Friday night that — if the season were to open on Saturday — Storen and Sean Burnett would likely get the lion’s share of the save opportunities, depending on the matchups.
Burnett and Storen can face both left-handers and right-handers, based on their numbers from last year.
Burnett held left-handers to a .273 average and a .327 OBP while keeping right-handers to a .182 average and a .253 OBP. Right-handers hit Storen at a .238 clip with a .321 OBP and left-handers hit .247 with a . 326 OBP.
— Nyjer Morgan is one of only three position players not making the trip Saturday to Kissimmee when the Nationals play the Astros. Adam LaRoche (sore left shoulder) and Jerry Hairston Jr. are the other two.
As the Nationals continue to sort out their center field situation, Morgan, who has an option remaining, could be the odd man out. Read into the travel roster what you’d like, but with just four spring training games remaining, you’d imagine the team would like to have all of its starters in each game.