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Washington Nationals’ lefty Matt Grace ready for any role in Nats’ pen in 2018...

Matt Grace spent more time in the majors in 2017 than he had in any previous season, and the left-hander said he’s ready for whatever role the Nationals need him in in 2018...

Matt Grace made his 2017 debut out of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen in late April, made six appearances in May, going up and down five times in the first two months of the season, and then came back up again in mid-June.

The Nats’ 29-year-old reliever stayed in the majors after that, making a career-high 40 appearances overall while earning his now-former manager’s trust.

“He’s gotten outs and he gets ground balls,” Dusty Baker said after Grace earned his first major league save in the first of two back-to-back opportunities on the road in Cincinnati in July.

“[Grace is] the guy that was that option guy that you send up and down, up and down because he has options,” the now-former Nats’ manager continued, “but he pitched his way on this ballclub and that’s what you want guys to do, you want guys to earn it and he certainly has earned it.”

Grace’s 61.6% GB% in 50 innings was the ninth highest in the majors amongst relievers with at least 40 IP last season, and he held lefty hitters to a .232/.315/.235 line against, without surrendering an extra base hit in 21 23 IP (versus .277/.350/.467, 8 2B, 1 3B, 3 HRs vs RHBs).

In addition to earning his first save, Grace made his first major league start in 2017, and he said last month, when he spoke at WinterFest, that he was ready for any role he’s asked to fill in 2018.

“It pretty much all starts with a sinker,” Grace told reporters, “... and it can be a lot of different roles too, but if they need me for longer innings then I have to be efficient with my pitches, I have to get outs quickly, and I can get extended a little bit longer. I’m not trying to strike everyone out, I know that’s one of my strengths and I have to play to that. So if I do find myself in a longer situation where I need to be extended multiple innings then that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

“I’m going to try to be efficient with my pitches,” he continued.

“I’m going to try to keep the ball on the ground and I’m going to try to fill in that void, but if it’s a situation where I need to face lefties, then I feel like I can strike out lefties in a bigger situation where you don’t necessarily need the ball on the ground, you do need a strikeout with runners on or something like that, so depending on the situation, depending on the role that they want me in, I think I can go multiple ways.”

Having earned Baker’s trust last season, however, Grace (and the rest of the Nationals), will have a new manager and new coaches to work with in 2018, which he admitted is, actually something that has an impact on players.

“It definitely affects you,” Grace said. “There’s a time where you have to get used to new styles and new perspectives and just new personalities in general, so there is a little bit of that and a lot of — depending on the coach, the pitching coach, or the manager, it’s going to be a different style of game, so — especially in the bullpen too, and how they see your role, and without them directly telling me anything, that you need to kind of figure that out on the fly. So that’s one of those things.”

Grace adjusted well to working with a new catcher, Matt Wieters, last season, and he praised the work the veteran receiver did behind the plate.

“I learned a lot from him just the way he calls games,” Grace said, “... and the way you could tell that he’s thinking back there. I have learned a lot from him and I think that was one of the reasons for a period there where I was having some pretty good success, and throwing my slider a little bit more than I had in the past, and he would go to my changeup more in a couple of those outings where I was extended and throwing to righties and got me out of some situations where I was like, ‘Always go to my sinker, always go to my sinker.’

“And then, you know, even started throwing my four-seam a little bit later in the year talking to him, talking about some things I could kind of improve on throwing to righties, so he’s been a huge help and is a huge help back there, and that’s why he is who he is.”

After getting a taste of a number of different roles last season, Grace said his takeaway was that he has to stay healthy and put in the work so he can stay on the mound.

“I think the biggest thing when you go for stretches as a reliever,” he said, “of being used for consecutive days — especially my role last year, it was long, it was short, it was kind of all these different roles, and just like bouncing back and making sure your body is in like the best shape possible and you’re eating well and you’re doing all that, you really need to stay on top of that kind of stuff like for a longer duration of a season, because those back-to-back days and then throwing multiple innings then you need to be ready for the next day, it kind of adds up a little bit and during like a long stretch of a season — so I think that was one of the biggest things that was kind of different than years past.”