Washington Nationals Boost Bullpen With Addition of Luis Ayala

By Brian Skinnell
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Welcome home, Luis Ayala.

On Friday, the Washington Nationals reportedly signed a minor league deal with former National and Expo Luis Ayala with an invite to Spring Training (according to CBSSports.com). In his contract, there is a clause that will give him a $1 million bonus if he makes the Opening Day roster.

Originally, the Nationals snagged Ayala from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2002 Rule 5 Draft. In 2003, Ayala broke into the majors. Over the next five seasons, he posted a 3.33 ERA through 332.1 innings of work with 213 strikeouts and just 76 walks.

Ayala bounced around the MLB for several seasons after leaving the Nationals organization, but he’s back on his game and Nats fans should be excited about his return. He brings experience and a strong arm to the bullpen. He’s also savvy with his work. His fastball only tops out at roughly 90 MPH, so he’s all about location and control.

In 31 innings of work last year with the Atlanta Braves, he posted a 2.90 ERA with 20 strikeouts. In three postseason appearances spanning two innings, he gave up just one hit while striking out three and didn’t give up a run. He may be 36, but he’s still got it.

The right-handed Ayala will be battling for a spot in the Nationals bullpen this Spring. According to James Wagner of The Washington Post, the understanding is that he’ll make the squad. How could he not? Ayala’s career has been on the rebound of late.

Ayala will likely step into a role to set up Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen for the late innings. That means that Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Nathan Karns and Christian Garcia should all be feeling some pressure. Ayala stands an excellent chance of making the Opening Day roster, and one of those four might find themselves the odd man out.

Expect Ayala to flourish for the Nationals out of the bullpen. He pitched well when he was here years ago, and I don’t see a reason why he can’t return to pitch just as strong. In 2013, the bullpen brought down the Nationals starting pitchers. With the additions they’ve made this offseason, that shouldn’t be an issue this year.

Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams‘ first offseason together has been a good one. They’ve brought in some big name players and made key acquisitions. If Luis Ayala is the end of the line, which it could likely be since we’re so close to Spring Training, they end the offseason on a definite high note.

Brian Skinnell is a freelance sports writer for RantSports.com and contributor at Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter and add him to your network on Google.

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