Calling in from the highway somewhere near Paducah, KY, Washington Nationals’ right-hander Blake Treinen told MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Brad Lidge on Wednesday afternoon that he was on his way to West Palm Beach, FL from his home in Walla Walla, WA, for the start of Spring Training next week.
His plan for the night, Treinen said, was to stop at teammate Shawn Kelley’s house in Kentucky before finishing the final leg of his cross-country journey to the Nationals’ new shared Spring Training facility.
So, the MLB Network Radio hosts wondered, are Treinen and Kelley going to play a game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who will take on the closer’s role this season?
“No. Absolutely not,” Treinen laughed. “I’ll leave that up to other people, powers that be, to make decisions. I think we’ve got plenty of candidates that can rock that job.”
Treinen is definitely a candidate for the closer’s role, or a late-inning role of some sort, coming off an impressive 2016 campaign which saw the sinker-balling, 28-year-old put up a 2.28 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 31 walks (4.16 BB/9), 63 Ks (8.46 K/9) and a .220/.314/.333 line against in 67 innings.
The big difference last season, Treinen said, was his success against left-handed hitters, who put up a .218/.348/.390 line against him on the year, down significantly from the 2015 campaign when he struggled to retire lefties (.336/.425/.509).
He talked last winter about his trouble left-handers in 2015, something he admitted was frustrating.
It was, Treinen explained, more a matter of execution than anything else.
"You make good pitches sometimes and they put good hits on it and then you make terrible pitches and they make you pay for it,” Treinen said.
“I think it's just a matter of knowing how to attack a little better and then executing those pitches."
His improvements in 2016, Treinen explained this afternoon, were a result of getting comfortable in the majors and receiving some helpful guidance.
“I think comfortability had a lot to do with it,” Treinen said.
“But also I was just really fortunate and blessed to have some good people that were added to the organization who took the time to invest in me.
“Matt Belisle was great last year in Spring Training with breaking down the process of how to prepare myself for a game and how to prepare myself for facing other teams.
“Mike Maddux, I mean, I can’t say enough about him and what he was able to do for our whole pitching staff. I think everybody would concur and say that he just invested in us on a personal level, to not over-think a situation but to use our best talents and enhance them so well that we can be effective on the mound.”
Maddux was equally effusive in his praise of Treinen this winter, when the veteran pitching coach talked about the righty’s improvements and what he brings to the Nationals’ bullpen.
“Blake Treinen, a lot of outs per pitch thrown, gets the ball on the ground,” Maddux said.
“You saw Blake Treinen in Spring Training. You saw Blake Treinen in October. That was puppy dog to bulldog. He was a beast at the end of the year.“
Among qualified NL relievers, Treinen’s 65.9% GB% (Ground Ball Percentage) was the National League’s highest.
His 2.28 ERA was the eighth-lowest.
His 84% LOB% was fifth highest among NL relievers.
Treinen generated the third-highest soft contact percentage (27.8%), behind only Mark Melancon (30.2%) and Jeurys Familia (31.7%).
“Experience definitely helps,” Treinen said today, “and I had a little motivation last year.”
He wanted to prove himself to his teammates, he explained.
“I don’t want to let my teammates down and obviously the glaring need for me was to get lefties out last year and I think the adjustment was made, obviously there’s still improvements that can happen, but I just felt really at peace with the idea of just going in and competing and not making any situation too big and just doing what my teammates and my coaching staff trust that I can do.”
Treinen also talked about moving along in the learning process over the course of his career and starting to trust his stuff against big league hitters.
“I think the biggest thing is seeing your stuff have success against hitters,” Treinen said.
“The hardest thing I think being young was making good pitches and big league hitters making better swings. And knowing that, ‘Yeah, they put a good swing on that one, but how many times can they do that out of ten?’ Who knows?
“Good hitters put good swings on some really good pitches, and for me it was like, ‘How do I attack a lefty to make him uncomfortable in the box?’ And that was a huge step for me last year, as opposed to just — everybody knows I’m going to throw a sinker, that’s my pitch, just like any other pitcher has their plus pitch they throw as their go-to pitch, everybody knows I’m going to throw a sinker, so how can I mix it in to where it’s more effective? And that was a huge step for me last year. To find ways to make it more effective when it counted and making that one pitch that I needed to, to get the out.”