In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s trade with the Oakland A’s, which sent Blake Treinen and 2016 Draft picks Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse to the Athletics in return for veteran relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker told reporters he wasn’t sure what roles the new bullpen arms would fill with the Nats.
“I’m not sure,” Baker said. “I’ve got to talk to [A’s manager] Bob Melvin. Like I said, both of them have closed, I know both of them have had some arm problems in the past, so it could be both of them, you know what I mean, so we’ll see.”
“We got two proven major leaguers,” Baker added, “like I said, both of them have been closers to shore up the back end of our bullpen so hopefully everybody can settle back into their roles and everybody can relax.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said that after a long process that started this winter, he felt that he’d finally addressed an obvious need in a bullpen that was, statistically, the NL’s worst in the first half.
“We feel that the impetus here was to shorten the game for us,” Rizzo explained, “to improve our bullpen
“It was a weakness that we’ve been trying to fix since the offseason, and we couldn’t get anything done and we finally made some steps in the right direction.”
Rizzo too, however, said that the Nationals would wait to talk to Doolittle and Madson before making any decisions on roles, though he did say he didn’t think they would go with closer-by-committee.
“I do think we are going to pick a player to pitch the ninth inning and a guy to pitch the eighth inning,” Rizzo said.
“I don’t think it will be closer-by-committee, we just have to sit down with the two pitchers, the pitching coach, and the manager, and figure out who we want to do it.”
The left-handed and right-handed additions to the relief corps met up with the team in time for the series opener with the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim tonight.
Baker still wasn’t ready to assign roles when he spoke to reporters before the first of two in Angel Stadium.
“We won’t be just setup man/closer situation, as much as you’d like it to be,” Baker told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “It’ll be sort of workload combination with what we have now.”
Neither of the relievers seemed too concerned about designated roles when they met with the press for the first time as Nationals before Tuesday’s game.
“I’m comfortable with whatever,” Madson said.
“I’ve done it all. I’ve done it all. So bridging that gap and getting it to the end or be the end, I think outs are at a premium right now, especially late in the game and that’s my specialty, is just getting outs, those premium outs late in the game.”
“I feel comfortable doing whatever they ask me to do,” Doolittle added.
“In my time [in Oakland] I was the closer, I’ve been a set-up man, I’ve matched up against lefties, I feel like I provide a little bit of versatility in that respect.
“Having worked with Madson, there were times where we would both chop up the eighth and ninth innings depending on the matchups or lefties or righties, he would get the righties, I would get the lefties, so I mean, I’m not attached to a role, like whatever they ask me to do I’m going to be ready to do when the phone rings.”
Both relievers said they were excited about the new opportunity and aware of the circumstances they were coming into with the Nationals.
Madson, 36, said he was aware of the chance he’s getting to move from the A’s, who started the day in last place in the AL West, to the Nationals, who started the night 10.5 games up in the National League East.
“I know I look young,” Madson joked, “but I’m getting up there and I don’t know how many bullets are left and how many more chances I’m going to have.
“So this opportunity is, uh, what a gift. Can’t put it in words, and I just want to go out there and just do what I do, that’s what I need to focus on and that’s what will make me good.”
Doolittle said he was trying to focus on the task at hand and not think about the fact that they’re being brought in to stabilize a shaky bullpen that blew a total of 14 save opportunities in the first half.
“I think we’re definitely aware of what was made of the move, but trying not think about it because we’ve got a job to do,” Doolittle said.
“Sometimes when trades get made, expectations get built up super-high, and I think we’ve got to focus on doing our jobs every day, as cliche as that sounds, but like I said, we’re kind of putting our blinders on. We’re excited to get to work, but we’re not going to spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff because you don’t want to have too much of a distraction.”
Madson made his Nationals debut in the eighth, with Washington up, 3-2, on Anaheim, and retired the side in order in a 15-pitch frame.
Doolittle took the mound in the ninth, with a 4-2 lead, and gave up a leadoff walk, then a double that almost went out, and a run in the ninth before he retired Albert Pujols to earn the save, his fourth of the season, 4-3 final.
“I promise they won’t all be like that,” Doolittle told reporters after the game.
“Madson threw the ball excellent, and then Doolittle closed the door,” Baker said after the win.
“Those guys aren’t going to quit over there, and [Doolittle] was facing the heart of the order, which makes it especially tough.”
With the Angels sending two right-handed batters around a lefty up in the eighth, and after Madson’s 1-2-3 frame, a pinch hitter and two left-handers due up in the ninth, it was the matchups that decided who pitched which innings.
“It was a matchup,” Baker explained, “plus I think Madson has felt more comfortable in the eighth, and Doolittle in the ninth, we’ll probably mix and match, and for tonight it worked.”
The leadoff walk and one-out hit guaranteed Doolittle had to face Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but he got outs from each to end the game and earn his fourth save.
“That’s what Bob Melvin said,” Baker said of his conversations with the A’s skipper about the left-hander.
“He’s not easily rattled and it was a situation where he wanted to come through and do his job, and if I’m talking to him he seems like a pretty cool customer under those circumstances and situations, and yeah, he’s been in there in that situation before and he’s faced these Angels many, many, many times, so he knows them and they know him. This wasn’t an ideal situation cause they’re in the same division, they’ve been facing each other for so long, I mean you’d rather have him face somebody that didn’t know him but that’s how baseball goes.”