VIERA, Fla. — Though there always are outside factors that affect the decision come the final week of spring training, Matt Williams does know at the outset what his ideal bullpen configuration would look like.
The Nationals' new manager said Sunday he'd prefer to carry two left-handers in his pen, but only one long reliever.
"We'll look at it and see what our best club is," Williams said. "Ideally, everybody would like to have two lefties they can maneuver in and out of a game. We'll see how it goes."
The Nationals would be thrilled merely to have one quality left-handed reliever after struggling through an assortment of less-than-inspiring options last season. They believe they acquired one in Jerry Blevins, picked up in a December trade with the Athletics, but there's still room for another.
That second lefty could be Xavier Cedeno, the 27-year-old who was impressive in limited action with the Nationals last season: one run and five hits allowed in six innings. It could be Sammy Solis, the highly rated prospect who likely needs more minor-league seasoning but could crack the big-league roster sometime this summer.
It could even be Ross Detwiler, should the organization decide to make Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan its No. 5 starter and shift Detwiler to the bullpen. Or the Nationals might ultimately feel they're better off with only Blevins pitching from the left side in their bullpen and stocking the rest with right-handers.
Williams also must figure out how his long man figures into the equation. Predecessor Davey Johnson liked to carry two long relievers/emergency starters, one righty and one lefty, but the new manager doesn't find that necessary at this point.
"We need a long guy, certainly somebody that can throw multiple innings if we get in a jam," Williams said. "He doesn't have to be right-handed. He doesn't have to be left-handed. We don't need two of them. Because we have starters that can go deep into the game."
As things stand at the outset of camp, there appear to be five relievers all but assured of spots on the Opening Day roster: closer Rafael Soriano, right-handed setup men Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, lefty Blevins and versatile right-hander Craig Stammen (who could potentially serve as the long man).
That would leave two bullpen spots up for grabs among a host of candidates: right-handers Ryan Mattheus, Christian Garcia, Roark (if he's not the No. 5 starter), Ross Ohlendorf, Luis Ayala, Manny Delcarmen and Clay Hensley; plus left-handers Cedeno and Detwiler (if he's not the No. 5 starter).
"It's about who throws well, how we do the roster at the end of spring training and who's going to be best for us," Williams said. "All those things come into play. At this point, that's an unknown. But depth is good. We have some lightning arms in our pitching staff. That's a good thing."