All across Major League Baseball, pitchers and catchers have begun to report for Spring Training. This means, yes, we’re getting closer to the first pitch of 2016. As excitement continues to build, teams still have a lot of work to do before the regular season gets underway. The Washington Nationals have made a lot of changes this summer, and obviously Bryce Harper‘s job isn’t in jeopardy in March, but there are a lot of questions about this roster (are they seriously blocking Trea Turner with Stephen Drew?).
Anyway, as the Nationals set up their roster, a lot of focus is on the bullpen where they will feature a couple of new arms. They signed long man Yusmeiro Petit and acquired potential-packed Trevor Gott from the Angels for Yunel Escobar.
The team has also extended a handful of Spring Training invites to some veteran relievers. Aaron Laffey, Nick Masset, Sean Burnett and now Matt Belisle joins this group that will battle for what, according to the depth chart, looks like just one potential bullpen spot.
The right-handed Belisle is a 12-year veteran who will turn 36 in June. He’s spent most of his career in Cincinnati and Colorado before going off to the Cardinals in 2015. He played for new Nationals’ Manager Dusty Baker as a member of the Reds in 2008. Belisle’s career numbers are dampened by a slow start, but he found his groove in 2010. From 2010-2012 he owned a 3.28 ERA in 244 innings pitches. After 2012, he was trending downwards until catching on last year in St. Louis.
One issue that Belisle has always struggled with is keeping runners off base. Only in 2010 was his WHIP under 1.1, but he has experience, a locker room presence and an established relationship with Baker. When it comes to competing for one of the very final 25-man roster spots, intangibles can go a long way.
It’s still too early in spring training to predict whether he makes the team or not, but he was a long shot for 2015 and appeared in 34 games before spending most of the Summer on the DL with right elbow inflammation. He posted a 2.67 ERA, his best since 2010 which was the first year of his statistical prime. Belisle hasn’t pitched in the Minor Leagues since 2009, so if he doesn’t make the team it will be interesting to see if he elects to retire or take an assignment with Washington’s AAA Syracuse Chiefs.