Dusty Baker made it official Thursday morning, before the Washington Nationals’ final Grapefruit League game: Blake Treinen is going to be given the first shot at the Nats’ closer gig.
Treinen, veteran righty Shawn Kelley and rookie right-hander Koda Glover were among the rumored in-house candidates for the closer’s role after the Nationals failed to land a high-end closer through free agency or trade this winter.
Baker told reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, how he, GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Mike Maddux finally arrived at the decision to give Treinen the ninth inning job after careful consideration that lasted throughout the Spring.
Kelley, who has undergone Tommy John surgery twice already, might have seemed like the obvious candidate among the three, but Baker explained that the Nationals handled the right-hander carefully last season and would take the same approach this year, with his injury history in mind.
“We didn’t want to do anything because we felt like we handled him perfectly last year,” Baker said.
Kelley finished the first year of his 3-year/$15M deal with the Nationals with a 2.64 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 11 walks (1.71 BB/9) and 80 Ks (12.41 K/9) in 58 innings pitched, over which he held opposing hitters to a .193/.232/.403 line in a 1.1 fWAR campaign.
Glover, who debuted in the majors last season after he was drafted in the 8th Round of the 2015 Draft, was rumored to be the top choice in recent reports, and he profiles as a future closer, but Baker said he’s come a long way in a short time and after suffering a torn labrum in his hip last season, the Nationals will apparently take their time with his development. And he will be part of the Opening Day bullpen in another role.
“We discussed Koda,” Baker said. “But here’s a guy that was in A-ball last year. He’s come from a long ways in a short period of time. And secondly, he had that hip problem last year, so we have to guard against that as well. We’ve taken all these factors into effect.”
Glover pitched at High-A Potomac, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2016 before he was called up to make his MLB debut, posting a combined 2.18 ERA with 14 walks (2.78 BB/9) and 52 Ks (10.32 K/9) in 45 1⁄3 innings between the three affiliates, and a 5.03 ERA, 4.72 FIP, seven walks (3.20 BB/9) and 16 Ks (7.32 K/9) in 19 2⁄3 innings with the Nats before he was shut down with the hip issue.
Treinen, in his third major league season, finished the year with a 2.28 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 31 walks (4.16 BB/9) and 63 Ks (8.46 K/9) in 67 IP, posting a .220/.314/.333 line against in a 0.5 fWAR campaign.
Among qualified National League relievers, Treinen’s 65.9% Ground Ball Percentage was the NL highest. His 2.28 ERA was the eighth-lowest.
His 84% LOB% was fifth highest among NL relievers and Treinen generated the third-highest soft contact percentage (27.8%) in the National League, behind only Pirates and Nationals’ closer Mark Melancon (30.2%) and the Mets’ Jeurys Familia (31.7%).
Though he struggled against left-hand hitters in 2015, to the tune of a .336/.425/.509 line against, Treinen got that down to .218/.348/.390 last season.
In an interview during WEEI’s broadcast of the Nationals game against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday afternoon, GM Mike Rizzo talked about the decision to give Treinen a chance at working the ninth.
“It’s something we’ve been discussing throughout the Spring,” Rizzo explained, “and Dusty and I and Mike Maddux finally got together and the decision was kind of made a week or so ago and we finally announced it: We’re going to insert Blake Treinen as our ninth inning guy.
“We feel our depth and our swing-and-miss ability and our power in our bullpen is going to actually be a strength for us.
“Blake has earned the right to close out games and we feel that with his power sinker and his breaking pitch, and the improvement he’s made in the last two seasons since he’s become a full-time reliever, he earned the right to take on that ninth inning duty and I think he’s going to just take off from here.”