WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are coming off what qualifies as a modest rough patch, but certainly their first funk of the season, after a 2-4 road trip that included a season-long four-game losing streak against two teams under .500. Still, Washington owns a commanding seven-game lead in the National League East entering this week's six-game homestand against the Mariners and Padres.
This seemed like a good chance to answer some questions from the fans about the state of the team, many of which surrounded their concern about the bullpen. And understandably so, considering the 5.40 ERA from Nats relievers is the worst in the NL.
So the latest Inbox begins there, with the questions if reinforcements, externally or internally, are on the way.
@JamalCollier Any sense of urgency from the front office to get pen support? could we see a trade soon or will Rizzo play it cool and wait a bit more?
The Nationals are well aware of the issues in the bullpen, and they are trying to find ways to fix it. And while they have started checking on names of potential relievers, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Simply, I'm not sure there's a lot of urgency from other teams, even if they are falling out of the playoff race, to start unloading talent right now.
It's still so early, and the non-waiver Trade Deadline is still two months away. So why would a team trade away talent now with one eager bidder when they can wait and potentially have more emerge over the next nine weeks? The same names, such as David Robertson of the White Sox and Alex Colome of the Rays, have been speculated and discussed for months dating back to the offseason, and obviously the two sides have yet to find a match.
But yes, the Nats are searching and seem ready to make a deal. It just might be difficult this early into the season to pull off a major move soon, the kind for a veteran closer at the back end of the bullpen. Perhaps they could find some help in middle relief, but that would likely require taking a chance on a struggling reliever, which they have enough of at the moment.
@JamalCollier Does Eric Fedde have a chance that to join the Nats bullpen soon?
Absolutely, the move to make Erick Fedde -- the team's No. 2 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com -- a reliever is not a long-term move, but rather a move to address a current team need (think Trea Turner's shift to center field last season) and accelerate his path to the Majors. So it's a matter of when for Fedde, and I'd guess it depends on how quickly he adapts to his new relief role -- he's only made two appearances out of the bullpen for Double-A Harrisburg.
There's still no timetable on Sammy Solis' return, and manager Dusty Baker said this weekend that Solis, who has been on the DL since April 19 with left elbow inflammation, is still not throwing. So Solis is still a long way away from providing relief for this bullpen.
When the Nationals first began promoting pitchers from the Minors to help with their struggling or injured bullpen, they called upon relievers such as Matt Albers and Jacob Turner, both of whom have pitched well, and more recently left-hander Matt Grace. Those were the guys who were performing well at the time. Bryan Harper underwent Tommy John surgery in November, so he's definitely not an option, but both Joe Nathan and Trevor Gott have pitched better lately at Triple-A Syracuse.
Gott has not allowed a run in his past six appearances (7 1/3 innings), and Nathan had turned in seven straight outings without giving up an earned run until he gave up three on Sunday. Nathan, 42, also is out of options, so the Nats will want to be sure before calling him up. If they both continue to pitch well and Washington's relievers struggle, they could be the next options.
However, the Nationals are still counting on the group of underperforming relievers they have to pitch closer to their career norms. They expect better out of Blake Treinen (7.78 ERA), Joe Blanton (9.49 ERA before he landed on the DL) and Shawn Kelley (6.08 ERA), and they trust that eventually those three will revert back toward their career norms.
@JamalCollier When is Dusty going to name Glover as the closer? I think it needs to happen. Let him have a real shot since there are no better options.
Baker sort of danced around this question when posed to him on Sunday, after Koda Glover secured a four-out save to seal a 3-2 victory against the Braves. Glover and Kelley were initially named the co-closers to replace Treinen, but Kelley received the majority of the save opportunities, with Glover as the backup. But during the past week, Glover has emerged as the primary option.
"Well, right now he's the most durable and he throws strikes," Baker said. "Kelley wasn't available today after going [Thursday and Friday]. … A closer has to throw three or four days in a row. So a lot of it relies on Koda's health, and he wants it. We're willing to give it to him as long as he keeps doing the job."
@JamalCollier The RHH bench consists of Chris Heisey (0-14 as PH) and Wilmer Difo (1 PH hit?). Upgrades?
Finally, a non-bullpen question! But yes, Chris Heisey has struggled mightily as a pinch-hitter after hitting three pinch-hit homers last year. It's a small sample and Heisey has been doing this role successfully for years, which will buy him some time to sort himself out so the Nats feel comfortable calling on him for big spots. Any concerns here have been masked some by Adam Lind, even though he is a lefty, but he has emerged as a weapon off the bench, batting 7-for-14 with three homers.
@JamalCollier With Adam Eaton out even as Zimmerman makes a resurgence doesn't it make this #Nats team the exact same team that lost in NLDS?
Yes, it's pretty much the same team, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. They did win 95 games last year and just missed advancing past the Dodgers in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the NL Division Series. So same team, but with a chance to be in a much better position come playoff time with a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman and MVP-level Bryce Harper -- neither of which is a small thing compared to last season -- and provided Stephen Strasburg and their catcher, Matt Wieters this time, can stay healthy.
And that's why they are scrambling to find answers with their bullpen. It's the only real weakness on a team that seems poised for a deep run this October.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.