Dusty Baker talked last month about trying, at some point when Sean Doolittle was unavailable, to get Brandon Kintzler to 30 saves. Kintzler, 33, was acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the non-waiver deadline, and he is headed for free agency after the 2017 season ends, so have a 30-save campaign on his resume would look good.
“At some point in time I would like to get — especially on an occasion when Doolittle is not available to close, I’d like to get -- Kintzler — he needs two more saves to thirty. So I plan on getting that before the year’s end,” Baker told reporters.
His first opportunity to earn a save with the Nationals, after he locked down 28 of 32 opportunities with the Twins, came on August 24th in Houston, but the sinker-balling right-hander took the mound with a 3-1 lead and gave up a leadoff single and back-to-back, one-out, RBI hits as the Astros rallied to tie it before Washington won it in extras.
Doolittle was actually available in that game, but Baker went with matchups, putting his left-hander in for the eighth before going to Kintzler in the ninth.
“You look at the matchups, and you look at things, and I called down and we talked to Doolittle, and said, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to put you in the eighth,’ and he says, ‘No problem.’ And you know Kintzler had been in the ninth, and you know some things just don’t work. You can pencil them out, but the other team has some say about that. If we had to do it again, we thought that was the right move.”
Kintzler got another opportunity a month later, on September 24th in Citi Field, and tossed a scoreless inning of work to earn save No. 29 of 2017 in a 3-2 win over New York’s Mets.
“We tried to stay away from Doolittle today,” Baker explained when asked about going with Kintzler, “... and so it’s good to have some interchangeable parts like that. This is what the playoffs are going to be all about, low-scoring, one-run games a lot of times, and you’ve got to have somebody, if they get in trouble, to bail their buddy out.”
Last night in the nation’s capital, Kintzler got what was likely his last opportunity at save No. 30, with Doolittle unavailable.
“We just wanted to stay away from Doolittle because, last night actually — he had pitched the night before,” Baker said, “and then last night counted as kind of an ‘in-the-game’ cause he got hot and then we scored some more runs and he sat back down and then they got some more, and then he got back up again and then [Matt Grace] got out of it, so to me that counted as an appearance.”
Kintzler took the mound with a 1-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday, but gave up a leadoff, infield single by Starling Marte and one-out hit to right by Jordan Luplow that set Sean Rodriguez up with an RBI opportunity he cashed in, lining a 3-2 pitch to left for a game-tying single.
Kintzler gave up a base-loading walk in the next at bat, then surrendered a three-run triple that decided the game.
“The walk hurt,” Baker told reporters after what was Kintzler’s sixth blown save, “which he usually doesn’t walk, then the base hit to right field the ball was up a little bit and then the 3-2 pitch, it was in the heart of the plate, and big league hitters don’t miss that, and so that was a mistake in location I’m sure.”
“I think he was sitting on a pitch in and turned on it,” Kintzler said when asked about Rodriguez’s hit, “... and the more frustrating one is the infield hit. Infield hits always seem to start something crazy in the ninth inning and you just can’t stop something like that.”
Asked if he was concerned, as a ground ball pitcher, that he was leaving pitches up in the zone, Kintzler said it was more about how the home plate umpire was calling the pitches.
“I wasn’t getting the call down so I was forced to elevate,” he explained, “so that was pretty much what that was.”
Asked if there were any concerns going into the postseason after a rough outing, the right-hander said aside from last night’s appearance, he’s been happy with the way it has been going recently, though he’d pitched often, in the series finale with the Phillies and two of three with the Pirates.
“I thought I was on a good run until today, so I was feeling good about myself,” Kintzler joked, “but three out of four, 72 games, I get five days off, I should feel really good.”
“One of those [outings] that’s going to happen,” he said, “you just always try to avoid it at the end of the season, but I still feel good about myself. I think I had a good couple weeks going into it.”
In 12 appearances in September before last night, Kintzler had given up just one run in 11 1⁄3 innings (0.79 ERA), over which he held hitters to a .195/.195/.268 line, so he’s not wrong about that.
Did he regret not getting to 30 saves on the season?
“They don’t really matter really,” Kintzler said. “If it was my job maybe I would care, but that’s not my role on this team, so 29 or 30, it’s a loss for the team. It don’t matter.”