When Davey Johnson looked to his bullpen last season and wanted to summon a left-hander, he had no shortage of options. Sean Burnett was one of the best setup men in baseball. Mike Gonzalez was a seasoned veteran capable of retiring some of the game's toughest left-handed sluggers. And Tom Gorzelanny was versatile enough to pitch four innings or face one batter in a big spot.
All three of those southpaws, of course, are now wearing different uniforms, leaving the Nationals without one slam-dunk lefty for their 2013 relief corps.
As far as team officials are concerned, this is nothing to worry about.
"We're going to go with the best guys," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "The amount of left-handed relievers has never been a priority to me. Mostly because we've got right-handers that can get left-handers out. And it coincides with Davey's managerial style."
Indeed, the Nationals have three right-handed relievers who enjoyed strong success against left-handed hitters last season: Tyler Clippard (.170 opponents' batting average), Craig Stammen (.198) and Ryan Mattheus (.241).
All three are perfectly comfortable facing tough sluggers standing in the left side of the batter's box, and all three would be comfortable if asked to hold that role this season without a traditional lefty in their pen.
"One thing I definitely won't do is change my approach against lefties," Mattheus said. "Because I didn't even know I was that successful against lefties before. I'm probably just going to go about it the same way I always have, not put any added pressure. But it's definitely going to be different if I have to go in just to get a lefty out. That would be a different situation."
There are several left-handers in camp, and there is a chance one or two could crack the Opening Day roster, though not necessarily in a traditional specialist role.
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