Nationals manager Dusty Baker doesn’t yet know who his closer will be in 2017, but he won’t be using a committee approach to the ninth inning, writes Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. The second-year Nats skipper flatly said that he doesn’t like the committee approach, “because when the phone rings I want guys to know, mentally, when they might be in the game.” Baker, though, expressed concerns over various internal candidates. Shawn Kelley has had two Tommy John surgeries under his belt, and Baker suggested that he was wary of damaging hard-throwing Blake Treinen’s confidence. “I’ve seen guys’ confidence get destroyed, too, and I’m going to call upon my past and what I’ve seen,” said the manager. More vaguely, he suggested that young righty Koda Glover, who is far less experienced than Treinen, could be “too bold” for the role, though he didn’t elaborate on. Baker is also intrigued by non-roster invite Joe Nathan, whom he managed 15 years ago with the Giants, though the Nationals need to see what they have in camp with the former All-Star, who has two TJ operations in his past as well (one quite recent).
A few more notes on the NL East…
- Kelley is more than up for the challenge of closing games for the Nationals, the reliever tells Yahoo’s Tim Brown, though he’s willing to pitch in any role he’s asked. ““If we came into spring training and they said there’s this kid from A-ball who throws 115 miles an hour, he’s gonna be the closer, I’ll embrace him,” Kelley tells Brown. “If Dusty needs me, then I’ll be the guy right there to answer for it.” Kelley is very arguably the best in-house option for the Nats, having posted a 2.55 ERA with a 143-to-26 K/BB ratio (which includes six intentional walks) in 109 1/3 innings across the past two seasons. But, Kelley does have the previously mentioned pair of Tommy John surgeries in his rear-view mirror, and he only pitched on three consecutive days once in 2016.
- Sticking with the NL East closer theme, Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin feels that right-hander Jeanmar Gomez “deserves” to be the team’s closer, writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Mackanin acknowledged that Gomez had a dreadful drop-off in production late in the 2016 season but likened his faith in Gomez to the faith former manager Charlie Manuel showed in Brad Lidge back in 2009. “Charlie showed [Lidge] confidence and stayed with him,” Mackanin said, referencing a dismal season for Lidge (7.21 ERA in 58 1/3 innings). “I think it was the right thing to do.” Mackanin did acknowledge that both Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos have “shown closer’s stuff,” but he stressed that Gomez is the current closer. The 29-year-old Gomez carried a 2.97 ERA into the 2016 season’s final month before being shelled for 17 earned runs in his final eight innings.
- The Mets have placed Zack Wheeler’s throwing program on hold after the right-hander experienced some “tenderness” in his elbow during a bullpen session this week, pitching coach Dan Warthen told reporters (via MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo). The Mets don’t consider it a setback, as Wheeler’s initial physical revealed his elbow to be in seemingly fine condition. Rather, the current belief is that Wheeler’s mild discomfort comes from scar tissue and won’t be a longstanding issue. Warthen said the Mets are treating Wheeler “with kid gloves” after he missed each of the past two seasons following 2015 Tommy John surgery. Even if he is fully healthy, Wheeler will be limited to roughly 100 innings in 2017, DiComo writes.