Nats need to determine right field, bullpen
Before playing their home opener Monday against the Phillies, the Nationals have to determine who will platoon with Willie Harris in right field and be their seventh man out of the bullpen.
With Harris as the left-handed hitter, Washington is looking for a right-handed hitting complement. The choices are Mike Morse and Willy Taveras. Entering Tuesday’s action, Taveras had slim lead to be the guy, hitting .289. But Morse has come on strong lately, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored to raise his average to 288 after the Tuesday’s game against the Marlins. Taveras went hitless in three at-bats in the same game.
Versatility may be the deciding factor, however. While Taveras can play all three outfield positions, Morse can play at least six — corner outfield spots and all four infield positions.
“I’m just playing. I’m just having fun. The competition is the last thing I’m thinking about,” Morse said. “When I go out there and have fun, my talent comes out. Whatever happens, happens. I think one of us can help the team out. I’m going to keep trying to get some quality at-bats.”
As for the bullpen, the Nationals are seriously thinking about adding an extra reliever and not carry that fifth starter. The Nationals don’t need the fifth man until April 11 against the Mets.
Left-hander Jesse English and right-hander Todd Walker are two guys who have a chance to claim that final spot. Since his first outing of the spring, English hasn’t allowed a run in last five innings and has struck out eight batters.
“He’s pitching well,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He is a guy who is taking advantage of an opportunity. He is competing for a job and he making a nice statement for himself like Craig Stammen did. So we have to consider that when we put the roster together.”
In his last six outings, Walker has allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, while striking out five batters. It helps that he is healthy and his pitching mechanics are in order.
Walker couldn’t say that early in the spring as he gave up 11 runs in his first two outings. Walker had lower back issues, but decided to gut it out. It proved to be a mistake, but Walker never used his injury as an excuse. He wanted to make early impression by overpowering hitters.