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Ryan Mattheus should be a key contributor out of the bullpen again this year.
Davey Johnson, though, takes every opportunity he gets to point out the importance of all 25 men on his roster contributing to a winning ballclub. And as we saw last season, there were all sorts of key role players without whom the Nats would not have won their first NL East title.
With that in mind, let's focus today on five guys who won't draw nearly as much attention as their big-name teammates this spring yet all could play significant roles on a club with realistic World Series visions...
The longest-tenured player in the organization -- he was signed out of Curacao way back in 2001, when the franchise still called Montreal home and was owned by Jeffrey Loria -- got plenty of chances over the years to prove he could be an everyday outfielder, but last season proved his true value is off the bench.
Though he started only 49 games, Bernadina appeared in 129 and established career-highs in batting average (.291), on-base percentage (.372) and slugging percentage (.405). He was a valuable, late-inning replacement in left and center fields and was a real threat on the bases, successful on 15 of 18 steal attempts.
The Shark's playing time once again figures to be limited this season, with none of the three projected starting outfielders (Harper, Werth and Denard Span) in need of a late-inning defensive replacement. But count on Johnson finding ways to use Bernadina in key situations, whether as a pinch-runner, a pinch-hitter or the occasional starter when one of the regulars needs a day off.
You wouldn't think a former first-round draft pick, a left-hander who throws 95 mph, would get lost among the shuffle. But that easily could be the case for Detwiler, who finds himself at the back end of a rotation that features four real studs in Strasburg, Gonzalez, Haren and Jordan Zimmermann.
That anonymity, however, could play right into Detwiler's hands. He's never been one to seek the spotlight, and he seemed to thrive last season when he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder, still needing to prove himself as a big-league starter. His dominant outing in Game 4 of the NLDS, with his team facing elimination, might well have been the day he finally took that major step forward.
At 27, with a full major-league season under his belt at last, and with confidence as sky-high as its ever been, Detwiler should be poised for a big season. How long it takes for the rest of the baseball world to catch on remains to be seen.
Did you know Mattheus already has 101 games of big-league experience, with a 2.84 ERA, only 7.6 hits allowed per nine innings and a 75 percent rate for stranding inherited runners? If ever there was an unsung member of the Nationals' bullpen, this is it.
The right-hander really came into his own last season, earning Johnson's trust more and more to pitch in key situations, most notably in Game 1 of the NLDS (when he stranded the bases loaded and recorded three outs on two pitches).
And he'll be counted on again this season to pitch his way out of big spots. With potentially no situational lefty in the bullpen, Mattheus (who over his career has held left-handed hitters to a .214 batting average) might well be asked to enter to face some of the league's toughest southpaw sluggers. He might not get chances to record official saves, but make no mistake: He'll have plenty of chances to save games.
Like Mattheus, Stammen really came into his own last year. This despite the fact he was asked to hold a role he had never held before in either the big leagues or minor leagues: Long reliever.
Stammen pitched two or more innings on 28 separate occasions, seven more times than any other reliever in baseball. And many of those six-out appearances came in tight ballgames. This wasn't your typical mop-up man.
Johnson will ask the 29-year-old to hold the same role this season, and like Mattheus he'll be asked to face some tough left-handed hitters in big spots. It's kind of a thankless job, but it's crucial to a club's success over a full season.
At this point, there's no way to know how long Suzuki will serve as the Nationals' No. 1 catcher. That will depend on the timeline for Wilson Ramos' full recovery from a torn ACL. But all indications are that the Nats will take their time with Ramos, easing him back into a regular role, which means Suzuki is going to open the season making four or five starts behind the plate per week.
If he's able to pick up where he left off late last season -- he hit .300 with four homers and 17 RBI over his final 25 games -- Suzuki could provide a potent bat at the bottom of the Nationals' lineup. And if he can continue to work well with this dynamic pitching staff, he'll really prove his worth as an all-around catcher.
To be clear, the Nationals believe Ramos ultimately will recapture his starting job and will be their best catcher. But until he proves he's all the way back, Suzuki will be counted upon to deliver in a crucial role.