What the Washington Nationals can learn from the Red Sox

Following the embarrassing performance from the bullpen last night, the news came out that yet again the Nationals are looking to shake-up their bullpen.

Manny Acta let on in his post-game press conference that he was particularly upset that he could only confidently pitch four relievers, Biemel, Villone, Macdougal, and Tavarez.

Specifically the guys causing the current bullpen woes are Kip Wells (0-2, 6.49 ERA), Joel Hanrahan (0-3, 6.68 ERA), and Jesus Colome (1-0, 8.25 ERA). The Nationals would just as easily send them packing but as this is something like their sixth bullpen shake up, they have run out of bullpen options both in free-agency and in their farm system.

The problem is that the only talented pitchers we have left in Syracuse, and even below, are starting pitchers. If you have been reading The Nats Blog you know that we are currently log-jammed in that position, and the situation will just get worse when Scott Olsen comes back from the disabled list.

One way that the Red Sox have been successful in the past with a very similar problem is to take their young minor league starting pitching talent and convert them to relievers for the short term.

The most recent man they have used to utilize this role is Justin Masterson. Masterson was almost exclusively a starting pitcher in the minors, and a good one at that. But as the strong rotation of the Red Sox plugged into the playoffs, the only place to fit Masterson in the pitching staff was as a reliever. He has become a major contributor.


In 2008 he pitched in 36 games, and started nine. In 88.1 innings he had an ERA of 3.16, and was a major bullpen help down the Red Sox stretch run. This year Masterson has pitched in 19 games, started six, and has an ERA of 3.65.

This arrangement has given Masterson Major League pitching practice but not at the cost of wasting a rotation spot. He has learned how to get Major League batters out while still contributing positively.

If the Nationals are lucky they may even find their closer of the future. After all, the Red Sox had Jonathon Papelbon pitching in the bullpen in a similar role to Masterson in 2005. The Sox actually still almost converted him back to a starter until both Papelbon and the Red Sox realized he had the heart and the brain of a closer.

Since the 2005 move Papelbon has been one of the best closers in baseball, earning 129 saves in four years, with an ERA of 1.83. He also has an outstanding 302 strikeouts in 260 IP.

The Nationals have the starting pitchers in Triple-A to make this work.

J.D Martin is chomping at the bit to get his chance in the majors. At 8-2 with a 2.31 ERA he has more than deserved his shot, and his measly seven walks in 70 innings pitched is the kind of control I’m sure Manny Acta would love to have in the bullpen.


Collin Balester seems to be wasting time in Syracuse. While he has been up and down while in Triple-A we all have seen that he has Major League credentials, he just needs seasoning. Besides, does Balester really have a spot in this teams rotation going into the future? It looks far too crowded; maybe he should be reincarnated as a reliever.

Speaking of reincarnation, Tyler Clippard has already proved in Syracuse that he is far more effective as a reliever than a starter. Throwing out of the bullpen this year Clippard has been nasty, posting a 0.92 ERA in 39 innings pitched.

I think the Nationals have the their answer right under their noses. At worst, its worth a shot.