The big question from Florida to Washington, D.C., is who will close for the Nationals not will you be my valentine? The organization failed to land any of the free agents available this winter. The organization will pay Jonathon Papelbon $3 million in 2017 not to pitch. Shawn Kelly seems to be the best bet to close, but he has a history with arm surgeries. If Dusty Baker is willing to think out of the box and make a controversial personnel change, the Nats long-term future could brighten dramatically.

The skipper should remember his playing days when teams didn’t have closers rather they had firemen: relief pitchers appeared as needed to stop the opponents’ batters dead in the box.

Think of greats like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, John Hiller, Mike Marshall, Bruce Sutter and of course Hoyt Wilhelm. Their role was far more important than facing a batter or pitching an inning. Firemen came in whenever needed to put out fires. A fireman’s importance was measured in games, innings pitched, wins/losses, holds, saves, strikeouts per-innings-pitched and WHIP.

Strasburg's best

Do the Nats already have a pitcher locked in for seven years and $175 million? Does this pitcher have a sizzling fastball that is better for his oft-injured arm and shoulder than a slider? Would that hurler be more valuable to the team pitching 60-65 regular season games stints of three innings or less? Can said flamethrower work more than 150 innings?

Doubtful!

That pitcher is Stephen Strasburg. If Stras were put in the pen in this new/old role, it would improve the starting rotation. With the players in camp today, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross, A.J. Cole, Austin Voth or Blake Treinen will fill out the rotation. History shows neither Gonzalez nor Ross are effective after five innings.

There is no reason to think either of the others will be either. If Stras only has 150 innings of gas in the tank, why not use it where the team needs it most?

Let kids grow

Voth is rarely mentioned but performed superbly in AA and AAA baseball the last two years. At 23, he could pitch regularly at Syracuse and get a call up if/when needed.

As for Cole, it is time for the 2010 draft pick to fish or cut bait. Similarly, 28-year-old southpaw Matt Grace should make his move in this camp or consider a day job.

Treinen will probably be more effective in the bullpen as part of a closer by-committee along with Kelley and Sammy Solis. The roster also includes Trevor Gott and Koda Glover. If one or both earn roster spots that’s great, but there is no reason to rush either. At 24, Gott is the senior of the pair.

Baker should also seek a cure to his lefty/righty addiction. The Dodgers feasted six Washington hurlers in the top of the seventh inning of the season-ending playoff game last year. The skipper stopped the game five times that frame trotting five different relievers.

The result was a walk, three hits, three earned runs, and another agonizing October loss at Nationals Park. 2017 is a fresh start, so try something new.

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