Jonathan Papelbon was struggling. Dusty Baker was struggling to find situations in which he could use the veteran reliever. Something had to give.
Baker talked, after Washington released the 35-year-old pitcher this past weekend, about how things would line up in the Nationals’ bullpen post-Papelbon.
He was asked if some of the younger, remaining pitchers like Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis would be used in different or more prominent roles?
“You don’t know,” Baker said. “Young isn’t necessarily good sometimes. It’s not about young, it’s not about old, it’s about production, how well that you’re doing.
“A lot of people put emphasis on old, but it seems like in our society we’re pushing the old out in all walks of life. Experience does count for something. Experience counts for a lot.
“We’re just hoping that we have guys that have been in this down the stretch, in the fire. We’re going to depend more on guys like [Shawn] Kelley. We’re going to depend on Matt Belisle, who is one of the veterans down there who has been through this.
“The guys that have been through to the World Series and postseason and we call upon them — and whenever one leader leaves, somebody else always arises.
“So it’s an opportunity for somebody else to pick up the flag.”
Belisle, Baker said recently, has been one of the difference-makers on and off the mound for the Nationals.
“He’s one of the leaders of this club and one of the leaders in the bullpen,” Baker said earlier this month.
“I’ve always said you need leaders at different areas: the bullpen, bench, on the field, pitching staff and he’s one of the leaders on this team.
“He’s been there before. He’s been to the World Series before. He’s unfazed by pressure.
“Like I said when we got him, if you can pitch in Colorado, you can pitch anywhere. He’s not throwing quite as hard as he was in Colorado, but he knows how to pitch, he knows how to pitch to the situation, which is evident tonight on the double play he threw up. So, yeah, he knows what he’s doing out there and he’s a big part of this team.”
Treinen, 28, has been on quite a run over the last three months, with a 1.00 ERA, 11 walks, 23 Ks and a .209/.291/.275 line against over his last 29 games and 27 IP before Monday night’s appearance in Coors Field.
He lowered his ERA to 1.88 on the year when he came on with two on and one out on Monday and got an inning-ending 5-3 double play with the first pitch he threw to Colorado Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado.
“He has that sinker and that sinker will get you out of trouble even if you get in trouble,” Baker told reporters after the game.
“That’s one of the best pitches in baseball, because it’s hard to keep off the ground.
“He’s gaining more and more confidence, and he’s doing the job and I think since the trade deadline passed, he’s also more comfortable here, knowing that he’s going to be here, because there were some people that were inquiring about Blake and you can see why. He’s done a heck of a job for us.”
Treinen gave up a three walks, a hit and a run in 1 ⅔ IP on Tuesday night, leaving him with a 1.99, a 3.80 FIP, 23 walks (4.17 BB/9) and 44 Ks (7.97 K/9) in 49 ⅔ IP.
The Nats may have fielded inquiries about Treinen, but they ended up trading lefty Felipe Rivero at the deadline, sending the young southpaw to Pittsburgh for Pirates’ right-hander Mark Melancon, who saved his fourth game with the Nationals in the series opener in Coors Field.
Melancon needed just four pitches to retire the side. Baker was impressed with the efficient outing.
“That was primo,” Baker said, after Melancon completed the fifth of five scoreless innings thrown by the bullpen after Max Scherzer was lifted after four innings.
“He doesn’t walk many people,” Baker continued, “and I looked on that board up there and his WHIP was like 0.91 or something like that. That’s pretty awesome. That means that nobody is really getting on base. He’s not walking people, he’s not giving up many base hits.
“Boy, that was some inning. It’s hard — I’ve been here many, many times, it’s hard to shut these guys out for the last four or five innings of a ballgame, cause usually that’s their forte when they come back in a close game because you never really feel comfortable.”
Are the Nationals comfortable with their bullpen options now?
They’re reportedly calling Koda Glover up to help out after rain limited Gio Gonzalez to jus three innings of work last night. They have options for September call-ups as well.
Does Baker have the arms he needs?