Acquired from the Minnesota Twins in the moments before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, Brandon Kintzler made his Washington Nationals debut in the bottom of the seventh inning of the series finale with the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night.
Kinztler stranded the two runners he inherited by striking out Ichiro Suzuki with a tailing, 93 mph 1-2 fastball. He came back out for an 18-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth in what ended up a 7-0 loss to the Fish.
“He has a pretty good idea what he wants to do,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the game.
“He threw some balls up when he needed to, threw some balls down,” Baker continued, “threw some sliders in, and he threw strikes. He was around the plate and threw quality strikes and we liked what we saw.”
Working predominantly with his sinker (400 of his 756 pitches this season), Kintzler’s held opposing hitters to a .230 AVG with the pitch, while mixing in a four-seamer (.268 BAA on 203 pitches), a slider (.250 BAA on 122 pitches), and a changeup (.125 BAA on 31 pitches).
Kintzler’s fourth in the majors in saves after converting 28 of 32 opportunities with the Twins, but he has the lowest strikeouts per nine innings (5.59 K/9) of any of the top ten closers (in terms of saves).
He talked in an MLB Network Radio interview after the trade about his approach on the mound and his mindset when he’s closing.
“My mindset is to get you out as quick as possible on the least amount of pitches,” he said. “I don’t care how I get you out. Obviously my No. 1 pitch is my sinker, so I’m just trying to attack you so I make you a little uncomfortable.”
“If I can just make a pitch really look good for a split second and create late movement then I can create weak contact,” he explained. “I’m just really trying to force the issue and make you swing and make you uncomfortable.”
It’s an approach that’s taken the 40th Round pick in the 2004 Draft from the minors (2004-2005) to independent baseball (2007-2009) to his first All-Star appearance in July.
“I was talking to him earlier, he’s been a very, very remarkable story,” Baker said in an MLB Network Radio interview on Wednesday.
“I mean, I didn’t know this guy had been released, I didn’t know that he had played in independent leagues for three years, that’s quite a story. He is a story of perseverance, and I told him he must be the independent pin-up boy, because the things that he’s been through to make it to this point and end up with  saves this year, I’m really pulling for him as a player and as a person at the same time.”
Following his debut out of the Nationals’ bullpen, Kintzler has a 2.70 ERA, a 3.58 FIP, 11 walks (2.12 BB/9), 29 Ks (5.59 K/9), and a .240/.290/.322 line against in 46 2⁄3 IP. He may not add to his save total any time soon, with Sean Doolittle looking like the closer right now, but Rizzo and Baker said they would determine roles over the next few months.
Kintzler gives the Nationals three new options at the back of the bullpen along with Ryan Madson and Doolittle, who were acquired in advance of Monday’s deadline.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday that Kintzler was the right fit at the back end of the pen.
“We had a lot of hooks in the water and we were looking at a variety of different types of relief pitching, and when we got down to it the best fit for us as far as financially, and more importantly prospect-wise, was to get Brandon in a trade,” he explained.
“A guy that can pitch at the back end of a game, I think he has 28 saves with the Twins, he was No. 2 in saves in the American League, but also is kind of a hybrid.
“In today’s bullpens, especially in playoff baseball, if we’re lucky enough to get there, this guy can pitch multiple innings, he can get you multiple outs, he’s one pitch away from getting you two outs because he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher, and again, he’s been tried and baptism by fire in the ninth inning, he’s shown that he can those final three outs if we need him to.”
Baker said he would work with what he has now and find the right reliever for the right situation even if he doesn’t assign specific roles.
“I’d rather have somebody I could name, but if you don’t, then the next best choice is to be nimble.”