Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Clippard is assured of a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.
Henry Rodriguez, the flamethrowing right-hander picked up from the A's in the Josh Willingham trade, has been stuck in Venezeula waiting for visa issues to be sorted out. It appeared he'd be arriving several days ago, but his locker remains empty.
According to Jim Riggleman, Rodriguez is now slated to report on Tuesday. Once he arrives, Rodriguez will try to catch up with the rest of the staff, throwing a couple of bullpen sessions, a live BP session or two and maybe appear in a minor-league instrasquad game before debuting against big-league hitters.
The other hard-throwing reliever who had been delayed by visa problems, Elvin Ramirez, has been in camp since Thursday and has thrown in the bullpen twice now. Riggleman and other team officials have liked what they've seen from the Rule 5 draftee, who has exhibited a sharp breaking ball to go along with his upper-90s fastball. They hope to have Ramirez pitching in games sometime soon.
Whenever Rodriguez and Ramirez do get going full-steam, each will have to make an impression pretty quickly if he wants to make the club coming out of camp. The Nationals have no shortage of bullpen spots already locked up, leaving precious few spots available for a bunch of guys in the mix.
You've got to assume four spots are locked up, barring injuries: Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey. Doug Slaten is probably a safe bet to make it as the second left-hander.
So that leaves only two remaining spots for perhaps seven candidates: Rodriguez, Ramirez, Collin Balester, Cole Kimball, Adam Carr, Craig Stammen and Chad Gaudin.
Riggleman seems to prefer having a designated long man in his bullpen, a guy who can be an emergency starter or replace a struggling starter in the third inning and bridge the gap to the back of the pen. Basically, this year's version of Miguel Batista. Well, Stammen and Gauding are the only two who really fit that description, so you've got to figure one of those two makes the team.
That leaves one remaining spot for a whole lot of hard-throwing right-handers. Because he's out of options, Rodriguez may have a leg up on the competition. Of course, he can't really compete if he's not here yet.
All the more reason he needs to get to town and get himself up to speed ASAP.