Over the weekend, reports surfaced out of Spring Training that Washington Nationals right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus would be shutdown due to chest discomfort. While the results of a Monday MRI were not made public, don’t expect to see Mattheus for one to two weeks.
Despite experience in the majors the past two seasons, Mattheus needed to prove himself all over again this spring. In 2013, Mattheus pitched nearly half as many innings as the season before due to a self-inflicted broken hand. When he was on the field, it wasn’t anything impressive.
In 16.1 innings of work spanning 14 games before his injury, Mattheus posted a 4.96 ERA and opponents hit .303 against him. When he returned, he was just as bad. In 19 innings spanning 23 appearances, he blew two saves en route to a 7.58 ERA with an opponents batting average of .390.
This year’s Spring Training brings with it an interesting battle in the bullpen. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen and Craig Stammen are all rightly considered locks. For the sixth and seventh spot in the bullpen, it’s up for grabs and there’s a handful of players who could get it.
To start, we know that manager Matt Williams is looking to add one more lefty to his bullpen. He already has one in Blevins and has told reporters he’d like to head back north with two. That means that Xavier Cedeno and Sammy Solis are fighting for one of those two spots.
It’s logical to then assume the seventh and final spot is reserved for a righty. If that’s the case, then there’s going to be one heck of a logjam for that spot. Along with Mattheus, Josh Roenicke, Luis Ayala and Christian Garcia will be vying for that spot. Whoever loses out for the fifth starter spot between Ross Detwiler, Ross Ohlendorf and Tanner Roark will be up for that spot as well.
For now, let’s focus on Roenicke, Ayala and Garcia since they are immediate contenders for that last spot. Roenicke and Ayala are both experienced major leaguers who were signed this past year. Garcia is considered the pitcher with “the best stuff,” so keep an eye on him. All three could step in and do well this season.
Aside from those immediate three, Mattheus could receive more competition from Ohlendorf and Roark if Detwiler wins the fifth starter spot, which I believe he will. Both Ohlendorf and Roark received relief work last year and pitched well. Even if Detwiler loses the battle, there will still be one more pitcher added to this bullpen competition.
With so much competition and Mattheus coming off of such a bad season, he needed to have an incredible spring to save his job. Staying off the field for a couple weeks certainly won’t help him, and this setback has put him at a severe disadvantage to keep his job in the bullpen.
While they say you can’t lose your job due to injury, expect Ryan Mattheus to fall victim to that phenomena thanks to a lack of spots and some pretty stiff competition battling for those few spots.