Until about a week ago, when Washington three outs away from securing a victory, the universal emotion overcoming everyone involved with the Nationals was dread.
Hyperventilating, although not suggested, was certainly warranted.
The role of closer should have been set a long time ago. It should have been settled in November, December, January (three months in which the Nats had the opportunity to acquire Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, and Greg Holland). They never got their guy.
After failing to bolster the back end of the bullpen, Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker said that the role would be decided at the end of Spring Training, the pool of talent being who the Nationals already had on the team.
After March ended, they supposedly had their guy; citing Koda Glover’s inexperience, and the injury risk presented by Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen got the job, a move that, although it didn’t initially inspire dismay, didn’t exactly reek of confidence.
We all know what comes next: Treinen falters, Kelley gets the job, doesn’t hold his own, and both he and Glover succumb to injury at the same time.
Suddenly, Matt Albers is closing out games.
Glover returned from injury, and, deemed the next man up, got his chance at closing out games—a chance that nearly everyone else in the bullpen had gotten before him, for one reason or another.
In his first real shot at securing the job, Glover trotted out of the left-field bullpen in SunTrust Park during the 8th inning, attempting to preserve the Nationals’ 3-2 lead with two outs in the eighth and a runner on second.
Nick Markakis, then the Braves’ hottest hitter, stepped up to the plate, and struck out on six pitches, the sixth being a 94.8 MPH slider.
After allowing a single to Matt Kemp in the ninth, a ground ball erased the runner, and the rest was history.
Three days later, Glover came in with a four-run lead against the Mariners and put Seattle to bed in order in the ninth.
Two days after that, Glover came in with the bases loaded and two outs against the Padres with prized prospect Hunter Renfroe at the plate.
He went down on four pitches, the last one a 95.6 MPH slider.
The next night, Glover had the job of putting down the Padres again, and put them down in order, the final out coming on a three-pitch strikeout.
Breathe easy, everyone.
It should be noted that these four appearances came against teams with a collective record of 62-89.
The offenses Glover has faced in the ninth thus far aren’t exactly run-producing machines.
At the most, it’s the Nationals’ saving grace; if Glover keeps pitching this well (and statistics suggest he’ll only pitch better; his 1.70 FIP, a refined version of ERA, is significantly lower than his 2.35 ERA), the Nats will suddenly be looking at a completely different trade deadline strategy.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, a word of warning: Mike Rizzo had a situation like this in 2015. Drew Storen was pitching masterfully. The bullpen behind him wasn’t.
The Nationals’ brass, thinking that if they slotted Storen into the eighth and put a proven closer in front of him, things might work better, went out and acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Papelbon, for all the contempt Nats fans still hold towards him, was decent in the ninth inning.
Storen, on the other hand, was angry, and struggled in the eighth, putting the Nationals right back where they were before.
Koda Glover is almost assuredly mentally “tougher” than Storen, whatever that means.
But he wants the job—according to Baker, he’s been pushing for it since spring training—and the Nats should keep him there and build around him at the deadline.
If, instead of trading all their blue-chip prospects for one closer, the Nationals decide to keep Glover at closer, they can more aptly spend their resources, acquiring two, three, four capable relievers for around the same price in prospects. (Plus, they can also call up some guys from the minors, such as Trevor Gott, whose ERA is down to 2.95 in Triple-A.)
Or, if the Nats find a “closer” they love for a good price, they can do what the Cleveland Indians did last year, keeping their guy in the closer role, and throwing their new arm wherever and whenever he’s needed to shut things down.
Either way, it looks like the Nationals may have options at the trade deadline. That’s something you couldn’t say last week.