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Nationals' bullpen gets off to rocky start in 2016

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Nationals' bullpen gets off to rocky start in 2016

We got our first glimpse at the Nationals' 2016 bullpen in Monday's Opening Day win over the Braves and the results produced quite the mixed bag. 

After starter Max Scherzer got through the seventh inning on 104 pitches, manager Dusty Baker turned to lefty Felipe Rivero to pitch the eighth with the game locked at 2-2. Rivero quickly flashed his trademark fastball, touching 97 miles per hour twice in a three-pitch strikeout of Gordon Beckham. But then the lefty found trouble, allowing a walk and a single before hitting Freddie Freeman in a full count with two outs to load the bases.

"He just wasn’t that sharp," Baker said of Rivero. "The pitch on Freddie was supposed to be a fastball away and it came up and in and hit him. So that showed me he was missing by a foot or so, a couple feet. So that was enough."

Looking for one out in the eighth inning, Baker called on Shawn Kelley, one of the biggest offseason acquisitions for the Nationals' bullpen. Beyond Jonathan Papelbon as their closer, Kelley has the most experience pitching in late innings of any Nats reliever. 

Whether it was Opening Day jitters or not, Kelley simply couldn't find the strike zone. His first pitch barely made it past the infield grass. His last pitch skidded under Wilson Ramos and walked in a run to make it a 3-2 ballgame.

“I don’t know. He’s been in that situation many, many times," Baker said of Kelley. "He was just throwing them in the dirt. We have all these stats, [like] runners inherited that have scored. That’s the lowest on our team, and that’s why we brought him in there for that situation. But sometimes, as you see, the stats don’t follow suit.”

After Rivero and Kelley, Baker had Oliver Perez - another winter free agent signing - to get the final out of the eighth. He then summoned right-hander Blake Treinen for the ninth and Papelbon for a save situation in the 10th. Treinen walked his first batter on four pitches, but recovered nicely after a mound visit by Wilson Ramos and Daniel Murphy to notch a double play against A.J. Pierzynski and a strikeout against Gordon Beckham.

Baker has indicated he wants to see his relievers in certain situations before finalizing any bullpen roles beyond Papelbon in the ninth. He wants to see guys with runners on and with leads to protect to learn who he can trust and when. Baker is in his first year managing a new team and is still getting to know his players.

The decisions made by Baker from the eighth inning on in Monday's win, though, gave insight into how he sees his relievers' roles at this point. Their performances in those spots, on the other hand, didn't seem to help solidify much of anything.

The Nationals' bullpen was a major problem in 2015 and they were aggressive in upgrading that unit this winter. After spring training and one game of the regular season, though, it remains a work in progress.

[RELATED: Prospects Giolito and Turner headline Nats' minor league rosters]

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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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