An invitation to Winterfest from the Washington Nationals is sometimes a good sign that the team wants its fans to get to know a young prospect they think might end up in the nation’s capital at some point in the near future.
James Bourque, a 25-year-old, 2014 4th Round pick by the Nationals, was added to the 40-Man roster last winter as well, coming of a breakout 2018 campaign which saw the starter-turned reliever excel in a new role, putting up a 2.16 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 12 walks (3.24 BB/9), and 52 Ks (14.04 K/9) in 33 1⁄3 innings pitched for Class-A Potomac, and a 0.92 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 14 walks (6.41 K/9), and 24 Ks (10.98 K/9) in 19 2⁄3 IP at Double-A Harrisburg.
When he got the call letting him know the Nationals added him to the 40-Man roster he said he knew it was another step in his rise through the organizational ranks.
“I was pretty happy with the season,” Bourque said this winter.
“I think, first full year as a reliever, I had to learn some things first couple weeks, first month or so, and then got into a routine and kind of built some confidence and then carried that throughout the year. So I was pretty pleased with that and then, yeah, I mean, always exciting when you get that phone call. It’s the first step towards making a dream come true, so yeah, it was a good feeling.”
Bourque had a (3-0) record, six saves, a 1.33 ERA, a 1.60 FIP, six walks (2.66 BB/9), and 33 Ks (14.61 K/9) in 14 games and 20 1⁄3 IP before he got another big phone call this weekend.
Bourque learned he was being called up to the majors by the Nationals, who are desperate for help in the bullpen and trying whatever they can to turn things around in the mid-to-late innings.
“You get that phone call, you’re kind of shaking a little bit,” Bourque told reporters in the nation’s capital before the start of Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins.
“And you think you know it’s coming and you hear it and you’re like, ‘Wow, alright.’ I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet, but I think once we get out there then everything will be real life and I’ll be ready to go.”
Bourque’s first call, as per usual for players when they find out they’re going to the show, was to his parents.
“Had to call the parents, yeah, my dad’s been bugging me about making sure that he knows everything, so called him and was talking to him on the phone. I could hear my mom in the background, and my mom’s not a crier, but it sounder like there might have been some tears going, so it was a good phone call though.”
Asked how he knows he’s ready to take this next step, the reliever said the steps he took last season prepared him for the opportunity.
“I think that last year was kind of like the learning period for me,” Bourque explained.
“Becoming a reliever and kind of getting some of the beginner’s mistakes out of the way.
“And this year I felt like I was commanding the fastball really well, and I think that’s what they wanted to see.
“That’s why I went to Instructs last year, and they didn’t let me throw my breaking ball, so I felt like this year I really had good command of it and I think it was a better pitch this year, so definitely that.”
Bourque didn’t get a chance to make his MLB debut on Saturday, with Patrick Corbin going nine strong for the complete game shutout, but the opportunity is coming for the righty at some point in the near future.