Matt Grace made a career-high 56 appearances out of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen in 2018, and he finished the season with a 2.87 ERA, a 3.40 FIP, 13 walks (1.96 BB/9), 48 Ks (7.24 K/9), and a .240/.285/.354 line against in 59 2⁄3 IP.
Grace posted a .229/.272/.379 line vs right-handed batters and .258/.305/.315 line vs left-handed batters on the year.
Manager Davey Martinez described the southpaw as a godsend for the relief corps when he talked about the reliever this past winter.
“[Grace] was really a godsend last year, and what he did, all the innings and learning to how to pitch ... everybody says, ‘Oh, he only gets lefties out.’ He got everybody out last year and did really well, so he learned a lot about himself.”
Martinez leaned on the left-hander, he acknowledged, but Grace responded to the added responsibility.
“Obviously, we used him quite a bit, but I really feel that his role could vary,” Martinez said.
“He could be a one-inning guy that just comes in to get a lefty out one day, or he can be a guy to get us four outs or maybe pitch two innings. If everybody is healthy, I really envision him coming in and pitching the sixth inning at times, or maybe getting one or two lefties out an inning, so we’ll just have to see.
“But he learned a lot about himself last year, you know, I know that history has it that he’s better against lefties than he is righties, but last year he proved that he can pitch against both.”
What was different for Grace that led to his success against both left and right-handers? His 2018 numbers were a significant improvement over his 2017 numbers (.290/.350/.467 vs RHBs; .235/.315/.235 vs LHBs).
“I think it was just going after guys and just executing good pitches pretty much,” Grace said before the second game of the season on Saturday morning.
With the addition of Tony Sipp late this Spring, the Nationals have three lefties in the mix, though closer Sean Doolittle will of course, be pitching the ninth (high-leverage situations) when needed. So what role will Grace fill? Sipp is likely to fill the LOOGY role, so will Grace work in the middle of the game, as a long reliever? Will Martinez actually mix it up forego roles for situational matchups?
“I think it’s going to be a pretty fluid situation and we’ll just kind of take it as it comes,” Grace said.
“I think — everyone in the bullpen, we’re all capable of getting lefties and righties out with the guys that we have, Sipp included, so it’s going to really depend on those situations and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Having established himself as an important part of the Nationals’ ‘pen, is there a comfort level this season, coming off a big year, and several seasons of bouncing back and forth between the major and minor leagues?
“It’s great to be back and good to be a part of this, as always,” Grace said.
“A great organization and a great team to play in front of, but there’s not comfort, as soon as you let your guard down, that’s when you can get exposed.”