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2016 Nats roster outlook: Can Rivero build off strong rookie year?


2016 Nats roster outlook: Can Rivero build off strong rookie year?

Age on Opening Day 2016: 24

How acquired: Trade with Rays, Feb. 2014

2015 stats: 49 G, 48.1 IP, 2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 43 SO, 11 BB, 0.952 WHIP, 15 R, 15 ER, 2-1, 2 HR, 145 ERA+, 8.0 SO/9, 3.91 SO/BB

2016 storyline: The 2015 season for the Nationals will be looked back on as an overall disappointment, a year that some would go further to describe as an abject disaster. But one of the more pleasant surprises that came out of that fateful season for the Nats was the emergence of reliever Felipe Rivero.

Rivero debuted in April and became one of the lone bright spots for a Nats bullpen that was otherwise a glaring weakness for most of the season. He ended up posting a 2.79 ERA in 49 appearances and acquitted himself nicely as a rookie, standing out with a high-90s fastball coming in from the left side.

This upcoming season for Rivero will be about proving that 2015 was no fluke, that he can pitch clean innings now that there is plenty of tape out there on him. How will he adjust to the adjustments made by hitters? The answer to that question could determine a lot for the Nats' bullpen this season.

Best-case scenario: Rivero was excellent for a rookie and his peripheral numbers suggest he could get even better moving forward. He kept runners off base with a 0.952 WHIP, held a 2.64 FIP and struck out eight batters per nine innings. If he can improve his slider and get better at commanding his fastball, he should strike out even more than the 43 whiffs he got in 48 1/3 innings this past season.

Another level for Rivero could turn him into a real asset for Dusty Baker. There is definitely room this year for Rivero to lock down a late-innings role as the setup man, or maybe even at closer depending on the future and performance of Jonathan Papelbon.

Worst-case scenario: Plenty of relievers - and starters for that matter - have looked great early in their careers before adjustments made by opposing batters rendered them ineffective. It happens all the time and it could happen to Rivero.

A worst-case scenario for Rivero might look a little like Aaron Barrett's 2015 season. Barrett was very good in 2014, but couldn't regain that form in his second year. Injuries played a significant role, but his struggles really hurt the Nationals' bullpen, as they were counting on him to take another step in his development and become a big piece of their relief corps. Rivero will hope to avoid following a similar path this season.

Most-likely scenario: Interestingly enough, both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference are skeptical of Rivero in their projections, each predicting him to take a notable step backwards in 2016. Both sites predict him to walk a lot more batters and see his ERA rise by nearly a full run.

That may or may not be going to far, but it is reasonable to expect Rivero to regress slightly in 2016. Opposing batters will now know what to expect, particularly those who saw him plenty in the NL East, and Rivero will likely be asked to pitch in more high leverage situations now with Drew Storen gone. He looked ready for a larger role by the end of the 2015 season. We'll find out if that's indeed the case.

[MORE: Will Michael Taylor become an everyday outfielder?]

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start


Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??


- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.