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Nationals add reliever from Twins before trade deadline

Nationals add reliever from Twins before trade deadline

MIAMI -- After adding three relievers in two weeks, the Washington Nationals still aren't sure who's going to be their closer.

They now have plenty of strong candidates, however.

The NL East leaders added another Monday by barely beating the trade deadline to acquire Minnesota Twins All-Star right-hander Brandon Kintzler, who is 28 of 32 in save opportunities this year.

Kintzler joins newly acquired Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, both obtained July 16 from the Oakland Athletics, in the back of the bullpen. The deals transformed the Nationals' biggest weakness into a strength, and manager Dusty Baker will sort out who pitches when.

"It gives me options. As a manager you like to have as many options as possible," Baker said before the Nationals opened a series at Miami. "It's a continual experiment depending on how guys do. The better a guy performs, the more I can slide him into a certain place."

The Nationals began the week with a 13-game lead in the NL East despite a 5.07 bullpen ERA, worst in the NL. General manager Mike Rizzo said there's plenty of time to settle on a pecking order for the revamped relief corps.

"We're going to get a feel for how the bullpen comes together and how they gel and what roles we would like to see them in," Rizzo said. "We've got two months left in the regular season to kind of figure out which is the best way to attack."

The Nationals acquired Kintzler for 24-year-old left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool allocation. Watson has a 4.43 ERA in 14 relief appearances in Single-A this season.

The Twins were sellers at the trade deadline as they began the week seven games back in the AL Central.

Kintzler, a pending free agent, took over as the Twins' closer in June 2016, converting 45 saves since the promotion, and has a 2.48 ERA this year. The former 40th-round draft pick, who spent three seasons in the independent leagues before making his major league debut with Milwaukee in 2010, has a 3.24 ERA over 271 career major league appearances.

"He pounds the strike zone, has a good sinker, throws a lot of ground balls, gets a lot of weak contact," Rizzo said. "He's capable against right-handers and left-handers, and a guy that is obviously experienced in pitching back ends of games. He has the capabilities of pitching in a lot of different roles, one of those roles being the ninth inning."

Madson and Doolittle also have ninth-inning experience, although neither is a true closer. But Rizzo said he now likes the bullpen's depth and balance.

"You've got lefties who can get out lefties and righties," he said. "You've got righties that can get out righties and lefties. It's a very versatile bullpen with guys that can get important outs at the back end of the game."

The Nationals have had issues at the bottom of their rotation, but Rizzo said they didn't pursue a starting pitcher before the trade deadline.

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm