- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Searching for a closer has been laborious for the Washington Nationals. The effective one they had, Mark Melancon, took a higher offer from the San Francisco Giants after he entered free agency. That began a scramble of moderate participation in the high-cost stakes for the two other prime closers on the market: Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman.

Neither came to Washington, which leaves the Nationals two weeks away from spring training without a designated person to pitch the end of the game.

Tuesday, Washington signed reliever Joe Nathan to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida. Nathan is eighth on the all-time saves list, just nine saves away from recent Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Nathan is 42 years old, a six-time All-Star and had Tommy John surgery in 2015. That’s why he’s thrown just 6 ⅔ major-league innings in the last two years. It’s hard to view Nathan as any sort of closer option. In 2014, he had 35 saves for the Detroit Tigers, but needed a 4.81 ERA to do it. He was effective the season before, back in 2013, for the Texas Rangers. Nathan’s ERA was just 1.39 during the 64 ⅔ innings he pitched for Texas.

At this point, the Nationals expect their closer to emerge from in-house options. Blake Treinen is a possibility. Shawn Kelley could be an option. Sammy Solis could be another choice. Young Koda Glover said during the offseason that he thinks he is ready for the role, though he is willing to do whatever the team asks him in just his second major-league season. Glover zoomed through the minor-league ranks last season. He began the year in Single-A Potomac, yet was in the major leagues July 20.

There are concerns with each option. Twice, Kelley has had Tommy John surgery, which has caused the Nationals to monitor his health with great interest. Solis has never been used as a closer in the major leagues. He’s a former starter who became their most effective left-handed reliever last season. Treinen was effective last season after struggling against left-handed batters the year before.

Washington also signed reliever Matt Albers to a minor-league deal Tuesday.

Signing Nathan doesn’t do anything to change the Nationals’ problem at the back-end of the bullpen. It does give them an intriguing veteran they didn’t have Monday.

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