Nats GM: We've 'discussed' using relievers as openers

Josh Luckenbaugh
May 29, 2019 - 9:51 am

The Nationals have finally hit a hot streak, winning four of their last five games. However, the relievers have continued to struggle, Washington's bullpen ERA still by far the worst in baseball (7.14).

As a result, Nats GM Mike Rizzo has started looking at creative solutions, including using relievers as "openers" and bringing in starting pitchers in the later innings.

"We've discussed it with our back of the rotation guys," Rizzo said during his weekly appearance on The Sports Junkies Wednesday, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank. "I'm certainly not as open-minded with our big three, but we have looked at it and discussed it our back of the rotation type of guys."

Those "back of the rotation guys" would include Anibal Sanchez (who is set to return Wednesday from a stint on the IL), Jeremy Hellickson (who is sidelined with a shoulder injury), and Erick Fedde. 

"I really like where Fedde's at right now in that five-hole, and hopefully Anibal gets back on track in a place he's familiar with in Atlanta," said Rizzo. 

Rizzo went on to say the decision to bring a starter out of the bullpen would be a collective choice, but that manager Davey Martinez would have the final say.

"It would be a group decision, but Davey has the ultimate call on lineups and rotations and how to utilize the personnel, and that type of thing," Rizzo told the Junkies. "So it would be a Davey call, in conjunction with all the information that we have, in a group setting that all the coaching staff, GM, ownership would probably have some contributions in the conversation. But ultimately, Davey makes the call."

A change in approach could certainly benefit the beleaguered Nats bullpen, but using relievers as openers might only tax them more if the starters don't pitch effectively when they come in, a risk Rizzo acknowledges.

"You're really counting on the rest of your rotation to go deep into games because the opener oftentimes utilizes your bullpen. You're going usually two or three or four relievers deep, depending on what that starting pitcher that comes in after the opener gives you," said Rizzo.

"That's the downside to it. But like I said, it's something that we've discussed and in certain situations, it'd be something we'd be open-minded to."

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