On Tuesday morning, the Washington Nationals signed left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invite. While it may not seem like that big of a signing, it does shed some light on the Nationals’ pitching situation.
First off, the signing of Gonzalez brings back one of the more talented arms to grace the Nationals’ bullpen in the past several years. In 2012, Gonzalez was an integral part of the playoff team, pitching to a 3.03 ERA over 35.2 innings with 39 strikeouts. He held batters to a .202 average and holds a career 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
As a lefty, Gonzalez steps right into a situation where he can compete for the Opening Day bullpen. Jerry Blevins is a lock, but manager Matt Williams has already said he wants to take two lefties back to Washington D.C. That means Gonzalez, Xavier Cedeno and Sammy Solis are competing for one of the two remaining spots in the ‘pen. The other is reserved for a right-hander.
The first thing this signing tells us is that the Nationals aren’t sold on Cedeno. Solis is young and is just a year removed from Tommy John Surgery, so he wasn’t necessarily expected to make the Opening Day bullpen. Cedeno, however, was a member of the Nationals last year and has been tabbed as one to watch in Spring Training.
In six innings of work for the Nationals in 2013, Cedeno pitched to a 1.50 ERA with six strikeouts. He pitched well and certainly showed potential. However, he’s given up two hits in two innings of work this spring. On Monday against the New York Yankees, Cedeno struggled with control and numerous pitches crossed the plate in the dirt.
The second thing this signing tells us is that Ross Detwiler is solidly in the lead for the fifth pitcher spot. Entering spring, Detwiler was in competition with Tanner Roark and Ross Ohlendorf with the loser going to the bullpen or below. With Detwiler being a lefty, he was headed for the bullpen if he didn’t win the job. If Detwiler was in danger of losing that spot, then they wouldn’t have gone out and signed a left-hander to put in the pen.
I fully expect Gonzalez to be in the Nationals’ bullpen come Opening Day. While his 2013 stats weren’t glamorous (4.68 ERA over 50 innings), they were uncharacteristic (lifetime 3.14 ERA). He was an important piece of the Nationals’ 2012 postseason run and brings a veteran presence to a relatively young bullpen.
While there is still plenty of baseball left to play this spring, it’s becoming clear where things are shaking out on the pitching staff. Detwiler is the front-runner to win the fifth starting job, and Cedeno needs to improvement if he wants to keep his spot in the bullpen. If nothing else, the Gonzalez signing brings some added to competition for Cedeno which could force him to up his game.
However things shake out, the signing of Mike Gonzalez is only beneficial. The Nationals return a solid arm with a legitimate shot at the bullpen for a cheap price.