Dusty Baker rehashed the Washington Nationals’ thinking in naming 28-year-old right-hander Blake Treinen the Nats’ closer when he met with reporters Friday afternoon in the nation’s capital, a day after he made the official announcement in Ft. Myers, FL.
In his third season in the Nationals’ bullpen, Treinen put up a 2.28 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 31 walks (4.16 BB/9) and 63 Ks (8.46 K/9) in 67 innings last year, posting a .220/.314/.333 line against in a 0.5 fWAR campaign.
Treinen relies heavily on his heavy sinker (which he threw 68.8% of the time last season and has thrown 72% of the time in the majors), mixing in a slider (30.4% of the time in 2016, 25.9% career) and occasionally throwing a changeup.
He’s thrown his change just 2.1% of the time in his career, and just 0.8% of the time last season.
Baker said that in spite of the heavy sinker use he did not think of Treinen as just a one-pitch pitcher.
“It’s not only the sinker,” Baker explained. “He has the changeup and he has the slider too.
“You can’t just make it on one pitch, but you have to have a dominant pitch. It’s hard to really elevate that sinker, especially at the velocity that he throws it at.”
Treinen averaged 95.3 mph with sinker last season, and threw it as hard as 98.9 mph, holding hitters to a .279 AVG on the pitch.
Opposing hitters hit just .118 against his slider, which averaged 86.7 mph and got up to 89.9 mph.
Treinen earned his first career save last season, and will get the opportunity to add to that total.
“He’s looking forward to it,” Baker said. “We asked him why he didn’t say anything to us about it and he said that it wasn’t his place and that’s pretty commendable for a young man, cause a whole bunch of young men feel everything is their place, you know what I mean?
“He said he’s ready for the challenge. He’s come a long ways in a [short] period of time.”
Acquired along with A.J. Cole and Ian Krol in a three-team trade with the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners in January of 2013, Treinen transitioned to relief work full time back in 2015 and turned a corner last season when he started to get lefties out after having previously struggled against left-handed hitters.
“Blake has earned the right to close out games,” GM Mike Rizzo told WEEI’s broadcast team in a mid-game interview on Thursday.
“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.”
Treinen, Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover were under consideration for the closer’s role after the Nationals tried and failed to land a late-inning arm through free agency or trades this winter.
Baker explained why Treinen ended up being the choice.
“Our other choices were Kelley — who, we didn’t know if he could go every day or not because he had two Tommy Johns, we had to take care of him,” Baker said.
“We had Koda Glover, who was just in A-ball last year, and we had to take care of him because of his hip [injury] that he had last year.
“We decided — it was a very tough decision,” Baker added, “... because everyone was asking me every day about it, and you know because this guy is so valuable.
“He’ll come in with runners on first and second and throw a ground ball double play, so we have to replace that person.
“He’ll come in and strike you out. He was much better in the second half versus left-handed batters.
“It’s just a matter of him just being the same and not thinking about closing, just be the same guy.”