- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

This year’s pod of bullpen lockers in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse is filled with new names. Each locker, from left to right, is inhabited by a different person than it was at the close of last season.

Monday provided the first look at how those new names may be dispersed at the start of the season. It was a bumpy ride.

When Max Scherzer was pulled after seven innings in the Nationals’ 3-2, extra-inning win on opening day, Felipe Rivero entered. Left-handed, throwing 97 mph and with only a year of major league experience to rely on, he was erratic. Missing by “feet,” as Nationals manager Dusty Baker said afterward, Rivero walked one, hit one, and allowed a hit in his ⅔ of an inning. To bail him out, Baker went to Shawn Kelley. He threw four balls and walked in a run.

Let’s start with them.

Rivero struck out Gordon Beckham with three fastballs. A seven-pitch at-bat with Jeff Francouer followed. A few things to know about Francouer: Against “power pitching,” defined as pitchers pitchers in the top third of the league in strikeouts plus walks, he is a lifetime .228 hitter. That averages rises to .299 against “finesse” pitchers. He has a career walk percentage of five percent. He strikes out almost four times as much as he walks.

Yet, Rivero threw Francouer three changeups in the at-bat, a pitch he threw five percent of the time last year, and is clearly his poorest at this point. He walked Francouer on a changeup.

Kelley was oddly off the rails. He spiked his first pitch. None of his four were close. His career walk rate of 3.1 per nine isn’t stellar, but also does not suggest such an appearance. Kelley, 31 years old, has been a closer in the past, so the pressure of entering a game with the bases loaded should also not influence him. And, yet, a four-pitch walk.

Baker was at least left with another round of arms to match up with. Left-handed Oliver Perez, held left-handed hitters to a .185 average last season. In his career, lefties hit just .231 versus Perez. He was effective.

Blake Treinen was next. He opened with a four-pitch walk to left-handed Kelly Johnson. That’s troubling since Treinen’s issue last season was that left-handed hitters hammered him. But, he was able to get left-handed A.J. Pierzynski to ground into a double play on a power sinker away from him. Then, he blew out the right-handed Beckham on three pitches. Beckham looked so bad Monday in the field and at the plate, it’s fair to wonder how much longer he will be in the league.

Coming into the season, Kelley was considered an option to be the setup man. But, the opener indicated that role may be handed to Treinen, with some help against left-handers in front of him and Jonathan Papelbon behind him.


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