- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

When the season was over, Mark Melancon received his share of hugs, despite being part of the Washington Nationals for only two-plus months. Melancon was so effective with the Nationals that his name was rarely brought up during the playoffs. All the angst that Jonathan Papelbon had brought was squashed by Melancon’s cutter. That made him well-received.

Melancon was quiet and effective after being acquired July 30. His 1.82 ERA in 29 ⅔ innings was the precise stabilizer the Nationals were searching for at the trade deadline. They jettisoned Papelbon and landed Melancon for a moderate price: left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero, who had a 4.53 ERA when dealt, and left-handed pitcher Taylor Hearn, who is 22 years old and pitched at the single-A level.

The reason for the low cost of Melancon was his contract status. He will become a free agent this offseason, bringing a giddy agent and quality body of work into pending negotiations. His status also leaves the Nationals with a hole in their bullpen.

The last three seasons, Melancon had an ERA of 1.93. That’s better than Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (2.32) and not far from Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman (1.72); both Jansen and Chapman have a much higher strikeout ratio. They will also be free agents.

Melancon has converted 131 of 141 save chances in that same three-year period. He does it by throwing his cutter at 91, 92 mph. The radar gun at Nationals Park registered one of his pitches at 94 mph in his first home outing for Washington. Melancon laughed when told of the reading. He compiles outs in a different manner than Jansen or Chapman.

The San Francisco Giants will be among those thirsting for a closer after their bullpen failed in the playoffs. The Dodgers will have to pay up or watch Jansen leave. Same for the Cubs and Chapman. Which provides the Nationals with deep-pocketed competition for one of the top-tier closers on the market.

Under general manager Mike Rizzo, Washington has not poured a lot of money into the position. It traded middling prospects for both Papelbon and Melancon. Drew Storen was an in-house option as the on-again, off-again closer. Since Rizzo took over in 2009, here is the list of names that have at least 10 saves for the Nationals: Mike MacDougal (20), Matt Capps (26), Storen (43, 29, 11), Tyler Clippard (32), Rafael Soriano (43, 32), Papelbon (19), Melancon (17). Almost annually, it’s someone new.

Options on the roster to close are limited. Shawn Kelley could be a consideration, if what drove him off the mound in his final appearance does not turn out to be major arm damage. Kelley had no feeling in multiple fingers after throwing a pitch in Game 5 of the National League Division Series and had to leave the game. He has had ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery (Tommy John surgery) twice.

“I have unfortunately felt that before,” Kelley said that night. “I was pretty confident there wasn’t any damage to my ligament or anything. It’s tough to go on when you only have feeling in two fingers. And scary at the same time.”

Kelley said he was not going to need an MRI, just a few days to let his arm calm down. The Nationals worked to protect Kelley all season because of his prior two surgeries. He is entering the second year of a rare three-year contract for relievers.

Blake Treinen had his best season with the Nationals. He put together almost a strikeout per inning and a 2.28 ERA. The key for Treinen was his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. He held them to a .221 batting average. In 2015, lefties were the reason Treinen was banished to the minors for a period. They hit .336 against him then.

Koda Glover, who started last season with Single-A Potomac, roared his way through the minor league system to be called up and make his major league debut July 20. His first four outings went well. Then, trouble. He finished the season with a 5.03 ERA. His time may come down the road.

The Nationals have a two-year window until Bryce Harper will command an enormous contract because of his pending free agency. In the meantime, Trea Turner provides them laughably cheap production. Those two cost the team $5.507 million combined last season. Even Daniel Murphy’s contract is team friendly, considering he is likely to finish second in National League MVP voting and was paid a mere $8 million to do so. At this point, three of their major contributors are a deal. Which means the Nationals have a chance to spend on a closer this offseason. They just have to decide if, in a change, they want to.


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