PT TOMORROW: NL East—WAS closer situation still a mess

Washington Nationals

The closer situation continues to be an unmitigated disaster. Shawn Kelley (RHP, WAS) and Koda Glover (RHP, WAS) have not fared well in two outings each since returning from the disabled list on May 12. Kelley was tagged with a blown save—the team’s 7th in 17 chances—on May 14 after allowing three runs in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Phillies. While it seems clear that the team will eventually have to acquire help from outside the organization, this figures to remain a messy scene until such a move is made.

Matt Albers (RHP, WAS) is perhaps the most compelling of the non-Kelley/Glover options. As we mentioned last week, the 34-year-old’s track record is underwhelming, but he is the hot hand at the moment, so it’s not out of the question that manager Dusty Baker could lean on him a bit until he falters (Career: 4.30 ERA, 6.3 Dom, 3.7 Ctl and 42 BPV in 617 IP; 2017: 0.69 ERA, 8.3 Dom, 0.7 Ctl and 169 BPV in 13 IP).

Looking at the minors, Joe Nathan (RHP, WAS) has been on a roll of late at Triple-A Syracuse. Through his first four May appearances, the 42-year-old has allowed one hit and one walk while fanning seven in four innings. His overall numbers aren’t pretty (5.59 ERA, 11.2 Dom and 3.7 Ctl in 9.2 IP), but that’s mainly due to an atrocious outing on April 27 (0.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER). Nathan has held the opponent scoreless in eight of his 11 appearances. If the bullpen’s struggles persist, there’s a chance the team could give Nathan a try while they wait for the trade market to open.

 

Atlanta Braves

As discussed previously, Adonis Garcia’s (3B/OF, ATL) tenure as the team’s starting third baseman figured to end sometime in 2017. The 32-year-old has struggled mightily at the plate so far this year with a .225/.246/.341 slash line and 4 HR in 129 AB, though a 23% h% is partly to blame.

Meanwhile, Rio Ruiz (3B, ATL) has been swinging a hot bat of late at Triple-A Gwinnett, slashing .266/.314/.494 with 4 HR and 1 SB in his last 79 AB. The 23-year-old seems to finally be tapping into his power after slugging .400 with 10 HR in 465 AB with Gwinnett in 2016. He has had extreme difficulty against same-sided pitching as left-handers have limited him to a .206 BA, 0 HR, 16 BB and 49 K in 155 AB at Triple-A (2016-17).

The Braves could soon opt to bring Ruiz up to be the primary third baseman with Garcia seeing most of the action against southpaws. Garcia would be best utilized as a platoon player given his lifetime .675 OPS in 643 AB vs. RHP and .834 OPS in 209 AB vs. LHP. That would also provide the team’s bench some sorely needed punch, as Braves pinch-hitters have a combined .208/.276/.264 slash line with 0 HR and 18 K in 53 AB this year.

Emilio Bonifacio (2B/3B/OF, ATL) would be the most logical candidate to be ousted from the roster. The 32-year-old earned a spot on the Opening Day roster with a solid spring, but he has slashed a measly .185/.214/.296 in 27 AB this season, continuing an ugly trend that began in 2015 (2015: .390 OPS in 78 AB; 2016: .479 OPS in 38 AB). The recent acquisition of Danny Santana (2B/SS/OF, ATL) gave the team another multi-position reserve to go along with Jace Peterson (2B/SS/3B/OF, ATL), so Bonifacio’s versatility probably isn’t as important as it had been.

 

Miami Marlins

Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, MIA), who has been on the shelf since May 2 with left arm fatigue, has suffered a setback in his recovery. He had hoped to return after missing just one start, but his May 13 bullpen session ended abruptly due to discomfort in his throwing arm. Chen missed two months of the 2016 season due to a left elbow sprain and recently told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he had been pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He was slated to get an MRI on the elbow on May 15, and could seek a second opinion to explore his treatment options, which could include Tommy John surgery.

Jose Urena (RHP, MIA) joined the rotation on May 7 and has lasted exactly six innings in both trips to the mound (12 IP, 1.50 ERA, 4.5 Dom and 3.0 Ctl). The 25-year-old still doesn’t generate as many swings and misses as one might expect from a guy with a 96 mph fastball, but he’s a work in progress. It’s worth keeping an eye on him to see if he can improve his secondary offerings (slider and change-up), as that will be the key to him taking a step forward. He is set as the fourth starter for the time being.

Adam Conley (LHP, MIA) was jettisoned to Triple-A New Orleans on May 9. The 27-year-old began the season as the fifth starter, but he has struggled mightily (7.53 ERA, 7.2 Dom, 5.0 Ctl, 5.46 xERA and 10 BPV in 29 IP).  His departure leaves the fifth starter job up for grabs.

Justin Nicolino (LHP, MIA) was promoted from Triple-A to start against the Braves on May 14 (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 K). We continue to be highly skeptical of Nicolino’s chances of success at the MLB level due to his track record of puny strikeout rates (lifetime 4.52 ERA and 3.5 Dom in 153 MLB IP; 3.89 ERA and 5.1 Dom in 238.1 career IP at Triple-A).

Jeff Locke (LHP, MIA) would be another option. The 29-year-old opened the season on the disabled list with left biceps tendinitis, but he is currently in the midst of a minor league rehab assignment. He has already made two appearances with Single-A Jupiter, tossing 80 pitches in his May 13 outing, so he could be nearing a return as either a long reliever or starter. Our guess is that he’ll soon replace Nicolino as the team’s fifth starter.

 

New York Mets

Last week we wrote about how it was going to be difficult for manager Terry Collins to bench T.J. Rivera (1B/2B/3B, NYM) once Lucas Duda (1B, NYM) and Asdrubal Cabrera (SS, NYM) were healthy. When Cabrera returned on May 12, the hot-hitting Rivera remained in the lineup at third base, pushing Jose Reyes (SS/3B/OF, NYM) to the bench. However, Cabrera re-aggravated a left thumb injury—reportedly a torn ligament—and sat out on May 14, opening a spot for Reyes at shortstop. If Cabrera is forced to the disabled list, this arrangement is likely to continue. However, if Cabrera keeps trying to play through the pain, is Reyes at risk of being relegated to the bench?

There are other potential avenues to playing time for Reyes. Collins recently spoke of reconsidering the idea of using Reyes in the outfield. While using Reyes in the outfield was discussed during spring training, the loss of David Wright (3B, NYM) forced the Mets to put that plan on the back burner. Reyes made his first ever MLB appearance in the outfield on May 13 when he took over in center field as part of a double-switch, but he moved to shortstop the following inning.  Reyes has stated that he is willing to learn outfield on the fly, so it will be interesting to see if Collins gives him a chance there while Yoenis Cespedes (OF, NYM) is on the disabled list. If it happens, it would come at the expense of ice cold Curtis Granderson’s (OF, NYM) playing time. Stay tuned.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron Nola (RHP, PHI), who has been out since April 20 due to lower back soreness, threw 52 pitches in a minor league rehab start on May 10. Barring a setback, he could be activated from the disabled list during the upcoming May 19-21 series against the Pirates.

Nick Pivetta (RHP, PHI) is expected to head back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make room for Nola. The 24-year-old has had a rough time in his first taste of MLB action, as indicated by a 6.14 ERA in 15 IP. However, he has flashed some intriguing ability during this tiny sample, including a 9.8 Dom, 110 BPV and a slider that has generated a 20% SwK. Home runs have been a major issue for him (3.1 hr/9), but an unfortunate 28% hr/f is partly to blame. If Pivetta can tighten up his command a little more and refine his change-up, he could eventually make some noise. Keep an eye on him. He’ll likely be back in the majors later this summer.


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