The minor league deal then-30-year-old veteran Ross Ohlendorf signed with the Washington Nationals last January included a clause which allowed the right-hander to opt out of the contract if he wasn't on the Nats' major league roster by mid-season. Ohlendorf was called up in early June, however, after going (4-5) with a 4.27 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, 30 walks (3.77 BB/9) and 67 Ks (8.41 K/9) in 13 games, 12 starts and 71 2/3 IP for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, so it never came to that.
In 16 appearances for the Nationals in 2013, seven of them starts, Ohlendorf was (4-1) with a 3.28 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 14 walks (2.09 BB/9) and 45 Ks (6.71 K/9) in 60 1/3 IP over which he was worth +0.3 fWAR.
The strong campaign in the nation's capital earned Ohlendorf a 1-year/$1.25M deal for 2014 which he and the Nationals agreed upon this past December, avoiding arbitration.
After pitching more innings in the majors in 2013 than he had since 2010, Ohlendorf told reporters last weekend at NatsFest in the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, that he was happy the Nationals wanted him back and excited about what the major league deal likely means for him as he heads down to Viera, FL for his second Spring Training with Washington.
"I feel like there's a good chance of me being on the team versus last year I felt like I was probably going to be in Triple-A to start the year," Ohlendorf said. "So I feel a lot better. I just feel better about how last year went and where I am pitching-wise right now." Most of his success last season, the seven-year MLB veteran admitted (without mentioning the disorienting effect of his old-timey delivery) was tied to the fact that he was finally healthy and comfortable on the mound.
"I obviously did a lot better than I had in a couple of years," he explained. "It was mainly just I felt really good physically and I feel like that helped a lot. I knew that I could pitch really well it just had been a while."
The reward for his efforts last season was a bit of stability for Ohlendorf, who bounced around over the last few seasons, pitching for the Pirates, Red Sox and Padres before signing with the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo, who was in Arizona when the D-Backs drafted the 6'4'' righty out of Princeton in the 4th Round of the 2004 Draft.
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Ohlendorf said he wanted to come back and was happy the feeling was mutual and the Nats made an offer.
"I was hopeful that they would," the now-31-year-old pitcher said, "and I thought that it was likely. I'm really glad that it worked out. I really wanted to stay, so I'm really glad they wanted to keep me and it worked out."
Though predominantly a starter earlier in his career, the work he did out of the bullpen over the last few seasons has prepared him for the role he's likely to play this year since he's a long shot for the fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation.
"I learned last year how to just be flexible," Ohlendorf said. "I feel like I was able to help the team a lot in having that flexibility. So I'm looking forward to being able to help in that way."
"I've always liked starting more, but I'm definitely fine pitching in the bullpen too," he said.
While there was a lot of attention paid to Ohlendorf's old-timey rocking chair delivery last season, an increase in velocity, which included one particular 97 mph fastball he threw which a reporter mentioned last weekend, also played an important role in the right-hander's successful campaign.
"I feel like all season last year I was throwing as hard as I have in a couple years," Ohlendorf said, and according to Fangraphs.com, he is correct. While he started out in the majors with a 95 mph fastball, it had fallen over the last few seasons from an average of 93.7 mph in 2008, 91.5 in '09, 91.4 in 2010, 91.1 in 2011 to 90.7 in 2012, but last year Ohlendorf's heater had an average velocity of 92.5 mph and a maximum velocity of 96.8 mph that he hadn't touched since 2009.
"I've thrown that hard in the past," he said last Saturday. "It just had been a while. But the velocity definitely helped. I felt like my command was good. I learned to pitch up in the zone effectively, so, not just hitting 97 [mph] that one time, but just the fact that my velocity consistently was higher when I wanted it to be."
The hard work paid off in his deal for 2014. Asked where the comeback season came from, Ohlendorf chalked it up to hard work.
"Just not giving up on it, I guess."
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