Nats In Depth: The Bullpen
By Dennis King Capitol Dugout Contributing Writer
Date: Mar 7, 2005
Today we’ll tackle the Expos bullpen as I flesh out the past and potential of the pitching staff of the ’05 Nationals.
Drafted 23rd overall in ’03 in what may have been a pick based on signability. Cordero had an impressive freshman season at Cal St. Fullerton and, after a bit of a letdown his sophomore year, finished college career with a lights out junior campaign with 40 appearances compiling 57 innings allowing 40 hits, eight walks and striking out 68 batters. Made brief ’03 stay in A Ball before debuting that September at Shea Stadium with Expos still on the fringe of the Wild Card race. Mike Pizza was the final out as Cordero recorded his first MLB save. That season he struck out 12 and walked just three in 12 outings that season. Much was expected in ’04 and struggled with his control walking 43 batters in 82.2 innings. Fell in a pattern of nibbling around the plate and often pitched himself into trouble after having gotten ahead of hitters. Still finished with better than a K per inning. Fastball/slider combo needs only dependable breaking ball to vault stuff into elite category. Turns 23 in mid March so the sky’s the limit.
If he holds up--and he just turned 27 and doesn’t have a history of arm troubles--Nationals fans will come to love and put total faith in this Mexican native. Unearthed by Omar Minaya late in the ’02 season Ayala made a brief stop in Triple A Ottawa before arriving at ’03 camp and quickly nailing down a spot in the bullpen. Ayala pitched 71 innings in ’03 finishing with a 2.92 ERA while allowing 65 hits and posting a K/BB ratio of better than 3/1. After a rough start to ’04 season with seven runs allowed in first 12 innings he recovered to sling 90 innings and improved walk and homerun rates while increasing his K/9. He didn’t allow a run in the whole month of July in scoreless streak that finished up at 21.2 innings. Ayala was slightly more effective against LH batters than RH batters. The only cause for concern is he was roughed up in September so he may have been showing signs of wear.
Here is the key to the Nationals pen. With starters like Day, Armas and potentially Patterson there will be strain on the relievers. There aren’t any immediate health concerns with Cordero and Ayala and those guys project to do a great job in the 8th and 9th inning. But the Nationals need that bridge in the 7th inning and here’s where Osuna comes in. Pitched for San Diego last season and went on the DL in the middle of June not to return until September. Osuna was absolute dynamite down the stretch for the contending Padres posting a 0.53 ERA logging 17 innings in 13 games. Struck out 16 and walked just four. He’s a power pitcher who keeps his walk totals in check. Osuna is another righthanded pitcher who fares as well against lefties as righties. Might that keep the Nationals from carrying a situational lefty? More on that later.
Once a very promising starting prospect, selected 47th overall in ’96, TJ even made a brief appearance with the Expos in ’00 making two starts. He hurt his arm and didn’t resurface in the bigs until the ’02 season when he locked down a long relief role. Tucker became the setup man in 2003 and was having a great season until a back injury shelved him towards the all star break. Posted a 3.72 ERA in 68 innings in ’04 posting a better than 2/1 K/BB ratio. Tucker’s overall numbers were marred by an emergency start at San Francisco. Remove that start and his ERA as a reliever was a very impressive 3.03. I think fans will be surprised at how effective this bullpen will be. A much better pitcher on turf than grass and we’ll see if that manifests this season for Tucker. He isn’t effective against lefties and spots his fastball and has a good changeup.
Joey Eischen The unquestioned team leader and lone lefthander you can count to be on the opening day roster. Eischen bounced around organizations. the Expos being one of them, until Joey nailed down a job with Montreal in the latter part of the ’01 season. The numbers weren’t noteworthy but they exploded in the ’02 season. Pitched 59 games and racked up 54 innings with a sparkling 1.94 ERA. Allowed just 7.2 H/9 and struck out 51 while walking just 18 and giving up one homerun. Numbers predictably rose in ’03 as major leaguers had their second look at the intense Californian. His ERA was still just 3.06. The lefty broke down early in ’04 but returned late in the year to pitch out the season. Will turn 35 in May. Keeps hitters off balance with a variety of breaking pitches while mixing it with a spot fastball.
This sounds a bit like John Patterson. Rauch doesn't have his draft pedigree but he’s a high draftee who broke down early in his career. In this case it was the White Sox who authored that decline. Rauch vaulted into Double A at age 22 and was quickly climbing the ladder until he threw a combined ghastly 166 innings in just his second year out of high school. He battled through arm troubles last year at the age of 26 was posting respectable numbers for the Sox Triple A affiliate in Charlotte. On the year he struck out 18 in 23 innings in a limited stint with the Expos and I'd take him as the 6th starter, if you will, just because the Expos gave Patterson a long look last year with the 19 aforementioned starts. Rauch doesn't blaze anymore but still throws hard enough to be effective. Just has to stay healthy and carve out a role. He may eventually replace TJ Tucker as the pen's fourth righthanded option. Whoever isn’t the fourth option will be the long relief man.
If you want to talk about a guy coming out of nowhere, here’s Horgan. Unremarkable numbers all throughout his minor league career, but somehow he latched onto success after a mid season move from the Cards Triple A affiliate to the Expos affiliate in Edmonton. Horgan posted a 3.18 ERA in 13 games for the Trappers before getting the call to Montreal.. Initially used as a situational lefty, Horgan eventually was counted on to pitch full innings as the brass gained confidence. He go hot, going 17 innings over nearly two months without allowing an earned run. Nothing in his past suggests he’ll be effective two years in a row but he did post a 2.08 ERA against lefties last season so right now he looks like the specialist. He’ll be just 28 in June so maybe he’s a late bloomer like Eischen before him. If he can get his K/BB rate over 2 then we’ll have a keeper. Typical non-power lefty. Gary Majewski
I don’t like his chances of sticking around. To his advantage he just turned 25 so time is on his side and he was putting together a good season at Triple A Charlotte for the White Sox before the Expos acquired him. He’d logged 42 innings striking out 41 while walking 16 and posting a 3.19 ERA. Might be wrong place wrong time for Gary. Cordero/Ayala form the hierarchy, Osuna is being offered the third man out of the pen and Tucker’s proven to be dependable. Horgan should get another shot at making the club. Plus one of Patterson/Rauch may trickle in after the starters have been set. I don’t know if the Nats have options on Majewski but he might be a guy to keep an eye on at Triple A.
Now it’s time we rate the riff raff. He reminds me of Armas which is why I might not like him. In fact his ’03 season with the Expos when he was a starter looked and felt remarkably like Armas debut season. Not a great K/BB ratio and too many hitters where Vargas went deep in the count. The difference is Claudio was 24 at the time. Not an age where you’d write off potential but the only thing he improved last season was his K/9. He’s a power pitcher who gives up a ton of homeruns. He was less awful as a reliever last year than a starter, ERA 4.61 as opposed to 5.76. Right now though he’s a guy you’ll want to keep an eye on in New Orleans.
Acquired from the Cubs along with Brendan Harris in the Orlando Cabrera. Had a decent debut with the Cubs in ’04 as a 24 year old finishing with a 4.63 ERA in 35 innings striking out more than a hitter per inning, 40, and walking 22. But he allow eight homeruns in that limited time. Has to lower his walk and homerun totals.