Miami Marlins Series Preview: Nationals Chat with Ricky Keeler

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Jul 24, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Matt den Dekker (21) greets right fielder Bryce Harper (34) after Harper scored a run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Marlin Maniac: What kind of moves are the Washington Nationals going to make in advances of the July 31st trade deadline?

Ricky Keeler: Reportedly, the Washington Nationals have been mainly looking at ways to improve the bullpen. While Drew Storen has been excellent as the closer this season and Casey Janssen has been good as the current setup man, the Nationals’ bullpen ERA is at 3.39, which is in the middle of the pack in the National League. As Ken Rosenthal tweeted last night, the Nats are thinking big in trying to build a great 8th-9th inning combination, whether it be for San Diego Padres closer Craig Kimbrel or Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman. It is unknown whether those players would buy into a setup role, but it is clear that Mike Rizzo is thinking big in terms of way to improve the roster.

MM: At 52-45, would you be okay with saying the Nats have been underwhelming in 2015? What record do you see the team finishing with at the end of the season?

RK: A lot of people coming into the season thought this team would runaway with the NL East, so I would say it is fair to say that the team has underachieved so far. While they have had most of the regulars out of the lineup, Washington has not had as dominant starting pitching as everyone thought, outside of Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann at times. The question for the Nationals is going to be how do they play when they get everyone back in the lineup. It’s tough to give an exact roster, but I still think this team is the slight NL East favorite, but the Mets are making this division race much more interesting than people thought in Spring Training.

MM: Bryce Harper, hands down, should be the National League MVP this season. What clicked for him this season and how fun is he to watch? 

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RK: This season, it has been all about plate discipline for Bryce Harper. While he does have 27 home runs this season (leads the league), he has drawn 72 walks, which is second in the National League. He is not swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone, which allows him to get his on base and give the players behind him a chance to drive in runs. It has been fun to watch Harper this season because he is capable at any moment of having a three home run game, like he had against the Marlins back in May. When the Nationals have a healthy level, I think Harper might go on yet another hot streak at the plate.

MM: What is the latest on the injured Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, and other Nats currently hurt?

RK: Rendon was back in the lineup for the Nats Saturday night. The Nationals will get one more injured player back tonight as Jayson Werth returns from the disabled list after injuring his wrist back in May. Stephen Strasburg will be making a rehab start for the Nats’ triple-A affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs, on Wednesday night. Ryan Zimmermann could be back soon as he has played a few rehab games at double-A, but he is 1-for-15 in those games. As for Denard Span, he has yet to start baseball activities, so his return could be a while, but Michael Taylor has fared well in center field and he is starting to get more comfortable in the leadoff spot.

MM: What is the current state of the Nats farm system?

RK: Lucas Giolito was moved up to double-A, which is a huge step for the 20-year-old. He is regarded as the top prospect in their system and it’s a farm system that is rich in pitching. First, Giolito had the third most strikeouts in the Carolina League and had a 1.04 ERA in his last five games, so he was ready for the next challenge. The Nationals are taking it slow with him after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. The Nats farm system is not rich with position players, so having a shortstop like Trea Turner could be big for them next season, if Ian Desmond becomes a free agent and leaves this winter. Turner came over in that three team deal with San Diego this winter along with starter Joe Ross, who has fared well when he has pitched in the big leagues this season at age 22. The Nationals have the pitching in their system to go out there and make a big trade if they need to.

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