The Nats are pretty close to a complete team already – it’s still a bit odd to be able to name almost the whole starting lineup and rotation of this franchise in early January. But there are still a few pieces missing, including and sort of left handed relief pitching. Part of me thinks this isn’t such a big deal. The better relievers on the Nationals should be able to handle good hitters from either side of the plate in close games. But if they continue to not really have any lefty specialist (or, preferably like Sean Burnett, a good reliever who is just better against lefties), there will definitely be situations in 2013 where we will all wish they did. The pickins are slim these days, almost all of the free agents have been snatched up.
J.P. Howell is probably the best that’s left out there. He’s going to be 30, and has always been more effective vs. lefties, although he’s not bad against righties. He had shoulder problems that kept him out in 2010 and hopefully was the reason he was so bad in 2011. But in 2012, he was very good, especially against lefties. He was also great in 2008 and 2009. A decent $$$ short term deal is probably all it would take to get him, if they want him. There are some other guys out there who have had mixed results in their careers, like Rich Hill, Will Ohman, Manny Parra and J.C. Romero. While none of them are particularly exciting options, they could be effective is used solely as a LOOGY.
Of course, there are possibilities internally, like them or not. The first one that jumps out is Zack Duke, a lefty starter who they retained after the year. He may be set up to be a long reliever/swing man, but he has been more effective against lefties in his career, so it’s possible. They signed Bill Bray, who has been very effective against lefties in his career, to a minor league deal in December. But he has to prove he’s healthy after missing most of 2012, and that’ss no guarantee. Patrick McCoy is a 23 year old lefty reliever who pitched ok in AA Harrisburg last season, with a 3.70 ERA but 60 Ks in only 50 IP. There aren’t too many other options, at least not in the high minors.
A Surprise Option
One other option that I haven’t seen mentioned is Pedro Feliciano. He is older, and he has missed the last two seasons with shoulder problems – appearing in the most games in the NL for 3 straight seasons probably had something to do with that. But he was very effective from 2006-2010 for the Mets, with a 3.09 ERA (136 ERA+) and 280 Ks and 125 BBs in 299 2/3 IP, and was always lights out against lefties. In his career, he has allowed a .580 OPS to lefties, compared to a .795 OPS to righties, and the last few seasons were even worse against righties. But used properly, he could be incredibly effective.
He’s a Puerto Rican native, and is pitching in the PR winter league this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few teams have sent scouts to Hiram Bithorn Stadium this winter (not a bad assignment) to check out his comeback attempt. And why not? He was great in 2009 and 2010, and if he’s healthy he’ll get some spring training invites. So far, his comeback has looked good. His first appearance was on December 11th, which I assume was because he was still recovering, since the league started play on November 8.
He’s appeared in 7 games, has thrown 7.1 innings, and has allowed 1 ER (2 R) in one appearance giving him a 1.23 ERA. He also has struck out 6 and only walked 1 in that limited time. Not much of a sample size, but he doesn’t appear to be lost, which is all that matters. It’s up to scouts to determine if he’s really healthy and able to pitch in spring training. His team is in the playoffs, which just started, so there should be more chances to see him pitch. If he is healthy, he deserves serious consideration, because what he did from ’09-’10 is better than anything this free agent class could offer.