Under the radar, Rivero continues to thrive in Nats’ bullpen

by Jacob Emert | MLB.com

WASHINGTON – With Friday night’s game tied at one and manager Matt Williams already in his bullpen, Felipe Rivero was called upon to bridge the middle innings to setup man Drew Storen and closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Rivero did so with great success, setting down all six Braves he faced in order. The Nationals ended up walking off on 10th-inning Michael Taylor’s home run to win 5-2.

That sort of high-leverage situation has become more common for Rivero in the second half of the season, and the vast majority of the time he has proved up to the task.

“I think that going into the whole process he had been a starter,” Williams said. “So getting used to coming out of the bullpen and getting used to warming up and knowing when it is that he’s ready is important. He’s ready now in five, six pitches. So that’s a good sign that he’s made that adjustment. The question marks were: will he throw enough strikes? What will the velocity of his fastball do coming out of the bullpen? Those questions have been answered and he’s taken to it really well.”

Rivero, 24, has posted a 2.72 ERA in 36 1/3 innings over 34 appearances in 2015, his first season in the big leagues.

With a power fastball that sits in the high-90s, he has displayed the willingness and ability to get aggressive with hitters. He has 30 strikeouts — which leaves room for improvement with a high-velocity fastball and a plus slider — but only six walks.

“He understands what the job is at hand and coming out of the bullpen you certainly don’t want to give them a free pass,” Williams said. “Make them earn it and he’s done a great job of that.”

It is unclear whether Rivero’s future with the Nationals is as a starter or out of the bullpen – he’s established the ability to succeed in both roles in the Minor Leagues. For the short term, as the Nationals continue to try to chase down the Mets in the National League East, Rivero continues to be an unheralded bright spot in Washington’s bullpen.

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