Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo went looking for a few of his relievers before the deal for Kansas City Royals’ closer Kelvin Herrera was announced mid-game last week.
Rizzo wanted to let Nats’ closer Sean Doolittle and some of the other arms in the back of the Nationals’ bullpen know what was going to happen.
“I had preliminary conversations with Doolittle,” Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Bowden this past Friday.
“I spoke to [Ryan Madson], I spoke to [Brandon] Kintzler, after the deal was done but before the deal was announced. I didn’t want them reading on the bottom of the TV that we acquired a closer, ‘Herrera to the Nationals,’ without me touching base with them and communicating to them what roles are going to be at the beginning and where they stood and that type of thing.
“Communication, as you guys know, is a crucial part of team chemistry, and the more communication the better, so I grabbed Sean and he was actually preparing to go out to the field. He was in the weight room doing his pregame workouts, and I grabbed him and his face was pale, because obviously I never go into the clubhouse very much during the games, and tracked him down and he was like, ‘Oh, boy!’
“And I said, ‘No, no, it’s good news, good news, and explained to him what we did and what roles are going to be, and that type of thing.”
Doolittle’s thoughts when Rizzo approached him?
“It’s kind of like being called into the principal’s office,” the closer joked. “He just said, ‘Hey, can I talk to you about something for a second,’ and I was like going through in my head, I was like, ‘Shoot, I don’t think I did anything wrong.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think I said anything.’
“You know like you run through all the stuff you’ve done in the last few days, and you’re like, ‘I don’t think I’m in trouble am I?’
“But it wasn’t something that was on my radar, so it just kind of caught me off guard, that’s all.”
He was, however, excited about the addition of the Royals’ closer, who gave the Nationals another high-end arm at the back of the bullpen.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s awesome,” Doolittle said. “You can’t have too much depth in the bullpen, and you know, we play a lot of close games. We’ve had a couple guys go on the DL because of kind of high workloads over the course of the season, so the message that it sends, like, “Hey, you guys have put it on the line for us here early, we’re going to get you some help to kind of shoulder the load,’ no pun intended, and kind of slice things up so it’s just another guy that we have down there that can kind of keep guys fresh and his — shoot, man, his experience — how he’s been throwing the ball this year has been awesome, but pitching deep into the playoffs, going into the World Series a couple times, being on that stage, having the experience with him, I think it’s really going to help us here, because we plan on playing a lot meaningful baseball here later on this summer.”
Rizzo echoed Doolittle’s sentiments, explaining that he thought he owed it to the relievers who’ve put in the work so far to help them and the rest of the team out.
“I always think at this time of the year or towards the deadline you owe it to the team to improve the ballclub because we’re grinding so hard,” the GM explained, “we’ve had so many injuries, and these guys have played so hard and so well through adversity that we owe it to the guys to take a little bit of burden off them and see if this move can get us jumpstarted into some kind of prolonged winning streak.”
The addition, he said, was well-received by everyone he informed.
“These guys are — I call them elite back end relievers and it makes [Davey Martinez’s] life a little bit easier to mix and match.
“But, I kind of made it clear to Doolittle that the ninth inning was his, but it’s also good that Herrera and Madson and Kintzler can pitch the ninth inning when Doolittle goes back-to-back days, and it really allows for those guys to have really a lesser workload even when we’re trying to close out games and going with your ‘A-bullpen.’
“The news was received very, very well.”
Before Saturday’s game, Martinez said that when it’s getting towards the end of the season, it’s going to be all hands on deck, and he said he’ll mix and match as necessary, when he was asked if he’d consider using Herrera as his closer if the matchups were favorable for the righty.
“We talked about that,” he said. “Not right now, but as we get closer to September and stuff like that, those things might happen, but it will be a conversation I have with all of them.
“Doo is good, left/right, he gets guys out, and he’s done it, he’s pitched in the ninth inning, so has Herrera, so they’re both really good, and to be able to have them and Madson and Kintzler at the back end there, it’s a good feeling knowing when you’ve got the lead in the sixth/seventh inning you have those guys coming in.”
Doolittle said he’s all for whatever it takes to get the job done, though of course, he’d like to continue to close out games.
“I would rather stay in the ninth because I think I can handle that role,” he said, “but if they come to us — and I think sometimes people think relievers might get hung up on their roles, and I think as recently as a few years ago, guys really were, because if you weren’t getting saves, you weren’t getting paid. And guys wanted to be able to take those saves to arbitration and free agency and it mattered, it really mattered that you were able to get those. Now you see guys getting holds and teams are putting a little bit more emphasis in their bullpen. So I think here recently we’ve seen a shift where guys aren’t as attached to their roles as maybe they used to be. I just want to win. I came over here and I was excited to be part of a winning team.
“I think a lot of us — we have four closers in the bullpen ... so based on usage, based on matchups, whatever is going to gives us best chance to win and keep us all stay healthy is something that we’re all for.”