WASHINGTON, D.C.: Early in the morning on the final day of the recently-completed 2017 MLB Winter Meetings, first-year Washington Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez learned that he’d have a three-headed bullpen monster to work with after Brandon Kintzler signed a two-year deal, and returned to the nation’s capital where he’ll work with Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle at the back of the bullpen.
Martinez told reporters this weekend, at the Nats’ WinterFest celebration in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, that he was excited about the decision to bring the sinker-balling right-hander back for another run in D.C. after he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins last July.
“It was a great sign,” Martinez said.
“I talked to him on the phone and he’s real excited and we’re excited to have him back.
“Pending his physical, we’re looking forward to getting him to Spring Training. He’s jacked up. So are the players. I talked to a lot of players and they were all like, ‘Hey, that was great to get him back.’ It’s good to see that they’re all in it and they’re all on board.”
“He’s an ultimate pro,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters when he spoke about the Kintzler deal at WinterFest on Sunday. “He fit into the clubhouse perfectly and is a guy who has a durable arm. Really no situation phases him. He’s a guy that came from very humble roots to the All-Star Game, which impresses me and makes me think that there’s still a hunger there that he wants to get better and improve, and I just like the way he goes after it. He has no fear and no situation is too big for him.”
Did the fact that Kintzler signed on in D.C. when he could have potentially closed for another team, and Rizzo said he believed there were offers, tell him something about the reliever?
“It really does,” Rizzo said. “That’s part of the thing that we like most about him is that he’s about the name on the front of the jersey more so than the back.”
“I think there were those offers to pitch the ninth inning exclusively, to have more save opportunities, to make more money,” the GM explained, “... but I think the relationship that he had with his teammates, specifically his bullpen teammates, and the relationship that we’ve had I think aided him in making the decision more based on chance to win and comfort level than it was a monetary thing.”
Kintzler, 33, posted a 2.78 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 11 walks (2.18 BB/9), 27 Ks (5.36 K/9), 28 saves, and a .246/.297/.329 line against in 45 1⁄3 innings pitched before the trade to D.C., and a 3.46 ERA, a 3.93 FIP, five walks (1.73 BB/9), 12 Ks (4.15 K/9), and a .253/.295/.364 line against in 26 innings with the Nationals.
Martinez said that Kintzler will likely continue to work the seventh inning as he did last season, with Madson in the eighth, and Doolittle in the ninth, but the right-hander’s ability to work comfortably in a variety of roles is something the first-time skipper said will be important for all the late-inning arms, who’ve all closed out games in the past.
“Doolittle, Madson, those guys are going to need days off,” he explained.
“You know, they can’t pitch every day, so we explained that to [Kintzler], I said, ‘Yeah, you’ll pitch the seventh, you’ll pitch the eighth, you’ll pitch the ninth sometimes, it depends on the need.’ But he’s excited.”
In an MLB Network Radio interview after signing on with the Nationals, Kintzler said he was excited about the opportunity to work with Matt Wieters again after clicking with the veteran last season.
“He’s a very good pitch caller I feel like,” Kintzler said. “He doesn’t just stick to strictly scouting reports, I feel like he definitely sticks with strikes but sees what’s working that day for us. It took me a little bit to... well, obviously I throw one pitch 85% of the time anyway, so it’s not really hard to figure out what I’m going to throw, it’s either a backdoor sinker or we’re going in, but he started to mix it up, started changing elevations, that’s why I started throwing four-seamers up to where I got a little more pop-ups, and everybody is like, ‘Woah, he’s [not getting] many ground balls,’ but it was by design, I promise. We were just trying to switch things up and he was really good at that.”
Martinez was asked what about Kintzler stands out to him and has him excited about the right-hander returning to the nation’s capital.
“He’s a competitor,” Martinez said. “Give him the ball. He wants the ball, and he gets outs. When you’ve got a guy that comes in and throws strikes and gets out like that, it’s really good, not only for the team, but the bullpen too.
“You don’t have to worry about getting guys up and getting guys in and he can get lefties out, righties out and that’s good.”
While it sounds like Martinez, whose history with Joe Maddon could result in some forward-thinking management, is going to stick with assigned roles in the bullpen, when he discussed the idea of opting to match up late in the game, he did seem to suggest he could mix things up when necessary.
“You hope that you lock those guys in seven, eight, nine, but like I said, you know, on particular days Doolittle is pitching two or three days in a row, he needs a break, and Madson the same way.
“Kintzler will be the same way, so on any given day — I look at it, I told them all I’m fortunate to have three closers, and that’s a good thing going into the season.”