Nationals overhaul bullpen at deadline, bring in player who once punched Bryce Harper in the face

The MLB trade deadline has come and gone. As expected, there are now several new names in the Washington Nationals bullpen, though for the team’s followers, one of the names was extremely familiar. And not in a good way.

The club announced Wednesday that it had acquired Daniel Hudson from the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland from the Seattle Mariners. Yes, that Hunter Strickland.

Nationals acquire guy who punched Bryce Harper

In case you need a refresher:

That right there is Strickland triggering a massive brawl by plunking former Nationals star Bryce Harper in May 2017. The context of that mishmash of ill-advised helmet throwing, punching and tackling was almost as bizarre as the fight itself.

Strickland’s one-sided grudge against Harper appeared to go all the way back to the 2014 NL Division Series, when Harper took the reliever deep twice in the same series. It took three years for Strickland to match up against Harper again, and the result was a 98-mph fastball right at Harper’s back pocket.

Harper and Strickland both got their punches in, and ended up receiving three- and six-game suspensions for their roles in the brawl. Sadly, a different player ended up facing massively larger consequences.

Giants outfielder and former Nationals fan favorite Michael Morse, whose walk-up song “Take on Me” is still played at Nationals Park during the seventh-inning stretch, jumped in to break up the fight and immediately collided with Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who was charging Harper. Morse sustained a significant concussion from the incident, and never played in the majors again.

And now, Strickland is joining the Nationals. That’ll make the team’s next game against the Philadelphia Phillies mighty interesting.

Nats bullpen still got much-needed improvements

Peculiar Strickland circumstances aside, the trades should be a boost for a Nationals bullpen that ranked last in the majors in ERA at 5.99 entering Wednesday.

None of Hudson, Elías or Strickland currently profile as a legitimate set-up man for a contender, but the Nationals bullpen had a remarkable six pitchers in their bullpen with ERAs above 4.50 entering Wednesday. Just getting three halfway-reliable relievers on board is a win for a team that has been resurgent since an awful start in the first two months of the season.

Hudson holds a 3.00 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 48 innings this season, and has also stranded 21-of-22 inherited runners so far. That’s a stat with an exceptionally small sample size, but the Nationals will still take it given how many mid-inning fires the team has allowed to rage.

Elías is a left-handed pitcher that has struggled against left-handed batters this year, but his performance is still preferable to the Nationals’ non-Sean Doolittle left-handed options in the bullpen. Strickland had been out since March with a lat strain, but threw a scoreless inning in his return Sunday and has a 2.98 career ERA with late-inning experience.

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper, left, prepares to hit San Francisco Giants' Hunter Strickland after being hit with a pitch in the eighth inning of a baseball game Monday, May 29, 2017, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Hunter Strickland has a, um, checkered past with his new team. (AP)

The total cost of the moves was a small stable of prospect arms. Right-hander Kyle Johnston, who Baseball America ranks as the Nats’ No. 21 prospect, was the price for Hudson, while the Mariners duo came in exchange for left-hander Aaron Fletcher (No. 19), left-hander Taylor Guilbeau (No. 14) and right-hander Elvis Alvarado.

Of course, the bullpen of the Nationals’ primary rival also got a shot in the arm with the Atlanta Braves’ acquisition of Shane Greene and Mark Melancon, setting up for a tough fight in the NL East.

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