Player Preview: Felipe Rivero
In the midst of all the dramatics, the 2015 Washington Nationals bullpen produced something worthy of optimism: Felipe Rivero.
Credit it to luck, instinct or great scouting – the tale of how the Nats acquired Rivero represents arguably the most recent feather in General Manager Mike Rizzo’s cap.
At first appearance, the deal that brought the southpaw to Washington could only be described scientifically as “meh.” In the trade, Washington sent right-hander Nate Karns to Tampa Bay in exchange for Jose Lobaton and two minor leaguers. But, those who follow Baseball America rankings recognized the potential steal as soon as word got out that Rivero was part of the package. In gaining Rivero along with outfielder Drew Vettleson, the Nats welcomed Tampa Bay’s 17th and 20th best prospects, respectively.
With the Rays’ organization, Rivero might have held onto hope of building a career as a starter. But, the Nats saw a brighter future for him in the bullpen, and there is little cause for anyone to look back.
For starters, 2015 not only represented Rivero’s rookie year, it also could be defined as the year in which Rivero’s fastball hit 100 MPH.
In his April 17th debut against the Philadelphia Phillies, Rivero pitched one inning of relief, during which he allowed three hits and an earned run. In other words, his performance wasn't worth a letter home.
But, Washington’s bullpen woes spelled opportunities for the now-24-year-old. And, as the 2015 season progressed, Rivero’s fastball inched closer to - and finally touched - triple digits, while his change-up and slider proved enough to throw batters off balance.
Rivero went on to provide primarily short stints of relief. Against the Cubs on June 6, he celebrated his longest outing as a Nat: three innings. In that time, Rivero allowed just one walk and no hits, and struck out two.
Since then, Rivero’s stints have fluctuated between one or two batters per outing and one to two innings of relief. Taking into account former manager Matt Williams’ “creative” bullpen management, Nats fans should look forward to seeing what type of role Rivero earns under Dusty Baker’s watch.
Still, only time will tell where Rivero will fit long-term. Chances are, he’ll start the season as a set-up man. But, for those already daydreaming about his future, there are legitimate reasons to think Rivero might find a home in the ninth inning in two years’ time (or less).
Until then, the Nats will look to capitalize on Rivero’s velocity wherever the need arises. If he can prove an ability to pitch in high-pressure situations, Rivero will represent something the Nats have lacked in the bullpen for some time: a safe bet.