As many baseball fans know, September 1st is a special date on the baseball calendar as major league baseball allows teams to expand the active roster from the traditional 25-man limit to anyone on the 40-man roster. While fans let their baseball imaginations run wild with matchup possibilities of 15 additional reserves, most organizations typically only add between 3-7 players, normally a third catcher, a few relievers to bolster the bullpen, and a handful of defensive replacements and bench hitters. Late Friday afternoon the Nationals announced they will add LHP John Lannan, catcher Sandy Leon, and outfielder Eury Perez from Triple-A Syracuse to the roster Saturday; in addition, veteran utility player Mark DeRosa will be activated from the disabled list. Davey Johnson also strongly hinted that after Syracuse’s season finishes the team will promote outfielder Corey Brown and a relief pitcher, widely believed to be RHP Christian Garcia.
Considering Stephen Strasburg is expected to be shut down in the next 2-3 starts, and the Nationals bullpen has shown some signs of overuse in recent weeks, it would have been a surprise if the team did not add a few pitchers to help down the stretch. It has been a rather foregone conclusion for weeks that when Strasburg reaches his innings limit, 2009 and 2010 opening day starting pitcher LHP John Lannan will take his spot in the rotation. Lannan struggled at Triple-A this season with a 9-11 record and a 4.30 ERA in 148.2 innings pitched, with 164 hits and 50 walks allowed against only 86 strikeouts, nonetheless, in his two starts for the Nationals this season, he has pitched extremely well with a 2-0 record, a 3.46 ERA with 9 hits and 7 walks against 7 strikeouts in 13 innings and his track record of success in the big leagues leaves the team in a good situation.
Shifting to the bullpen, currently the Nationals have three pitchers, Craig Stammen 74.1 innings, Tom Gorzelanny 61 innings, and Tyler Clippard 59.1 innings, in the top fifteen in total innings pitched by a reliever this season. In addition the Nationals bullpen has thrown more than 400 innings thus far in 2012, 8th most in baseball and with the expectation of a deep playoff run, the team needs to carefully watch and protect the bullpen from overuse in the upcoming weeks. In response to this, Lannan will pitch in relief until he replaces Strasburg and 27-year-old right-handed relief pitcher Christian Garcia will be promoted at the conclusion of Syracuse’s season early next week. Garcia has been the most surprising player in the Nationals minor league system this year, pitching to a 0.88 ERA with 20 saves and 66 strikeouts in 51.1 innings pitched, and with an mid-90s fastball and plus slider, he should immediately be an asset in middle relief for the club.
Looking toward the offense, Corey Brown, Mark DeRosa, Sandy Leon, and Eury Perez will serve as bench depth for the Nationals. After a difficult season in 2011, Corey Brown has rebounded with a dominant effort this year, batting 286/.365/.517 with 23 home runs and 54 extra base hits. His impressive left-handed power and ability to play all three outfield positions should benefit the Nationals in September, and his performance this year should earn him a spot as a reserve outfielder in 2013. Mark DeRosa has struggled all year with injuries which has led to a disappointing .152/.288/.212 batting line and zero home runs in 66 at-bats this season, but his intangibles and veteran leadership should provide this youthful team a calming influence down the stretch.
Sandy Leon, who sustained an injury in his first game with the Nationals in May, has improved offensively this season as evidenced by his .322/.396/.460 batting line to go along with his impressive above-average defensive skills. He will serve as the third catcher behind Kurt Suzuki and Jesus Flores, and will allow manager Davey Johnson the flexibility to pinch hit for the catcher’s spot later in games. Finally, Eury Perez impressed the organization in Viera and has used a productive spring training as a springboard in 2012, batting .314/.344/.361 with 51 stolen bases over three levels in addition to his excellent defense in center field. He lacks power and needs to take more walks to eventually evolve into a leadoff hitter, but for the time being he will be an asset as a defensive replacement in center field and pinch runner for the Nats.
None of the six roster additions the Nationals have announced should come as a surprise, as Brown, DeRosa, Lannan, and Leon have spent time with the team in 2012, and Perez and Garcia have had impressive minor league seasons and can bolster the roster down the stretch. My only critique is I am surprised the team did not add Christian Garcia immediately and that they did not recall an additional reliever. As mentioned above, the bullpen has been worked particularly hard this season, and it would be beneficial to have two additional arms to soak up most of the low-leverage innings this month. I would have liked to see Ryan Perry receive a promotion as well, as he already occupies a place on the 40-man roster and his 3.07 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 85 innings pitched warrant a place somewhere in the Nationals bullpen. Otherwise as is typical of general manager Mike Rizzo and the front office, the Nationals made wise decisions with whom they added and these six players will give Davey Johnson additional matchup possibilities late in games and improve the team’s overall depth for the stretch run.
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