Speaking about the bullpen depth in Washington during the Winter Meetings in December, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said he hoped the front office would add a couple late-inning arms to complement closer Sean Doolittle before they were done building the roster for the 2020 campaign.
“I like what [Tanner Rainey] did towards the end of the year,” Martinez said.
“He grew a lot and matured a lot. You have [Wander] Suero, who I think did a great job. His ERA doesn’t say that, but he pitched a lot of innings for us, pitched some big innings for us.
“We’ve got [Hunter] Strickland [and Roenis] Elías back. What I would like is hopefully we can find a few ‘back end of the bullpen’ guys to complement Doolittle.”
GM Mike Rizzo signed veteran reliever Will Harris to a 3-year/$24M deal and re-signed right-hander Daniel Hudson to a 2-year/$11M contract, after acquiring the veteran at the deadline this past July, adding both the reliever who gave up that Howie Kendrick home run in Game 7 of the World Series (after his dominant 2019 regular season in the Houston Astros’ bullpen) and the pitcher who was on the mound when the Nationals won it all in the Fall Classic with the ‘Stros.
“I’ve known them both for a long time,” Rizzo said of the late-inning additions. “Will Harris’s track record is second to none. Hudson is a guy that we threw in the fire early, often, daily, once we got him, and his makeup passed the test for us. We want that type of player in the clubhouse, so we made it a point to get him back, because we needed his presence back, and we wanted to upgrade ourselves at the back end of the bullpen.”
Doolittle, who struggled with injury issues in August, but recovered, and contributed down the stretch in September and October, said this past weekend he’d kept in touch with his teammate after Hudson hit the free agent market, and was thrilled to learn that there would be a reunion in the bullpen even after the Nationals signed Harris to a multi-year deal.
#Nats’ closer Sean Doolittle on the #Nationals signing reliever Will Harris and how Harris has handled questions about giving up the Howie Kendrick HR in Game 7 of the World Series: pic.twitter.com/HNwfTmmJHv— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) January 11, 2020
“I’ve been talking to Huddy for pretty much — throughout the offseason, and trying to get a feel for what he was thinking and what might happen,” Doolittle explained, “... and we never really talked specifics or anything, but he was like, ‘Man, I want to come back, I’m not sure if it’s going to work out or not,’ so you know, I had my fingers crossed, and then we signed Will Harris, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was so excited about it, because — I don’t know if people realize this: I hope Nats fans know that he’s one of the best relievers in all of baseball. You look at his numbers from last season and throughout his career. He’s more than just the guy who gave up the home run to Howie [Kendrick], which was an incredible pitch by the way, that’s a reliever’s nightmare, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way, and I think that the way that he’s handled it with so much dignity and class says a lot about who he is as a person as well. So I was stoked about that, and then I was wondering what that meant for Huddy.”
Doolittle was recording a podcast a few days later when the news broke that Hudson would be back in D.C. in 2020.
“I was in the middle of a podcast with [NBC Sports Washington’s] Todd [Dybas], and I was talking about Star Wars, and he was like, ‘Hang on, I’ve got to put you on hold,’ and I was like, ‘But you invited me to talk about Star Wars, don’t put me on hold, we’re talking about Star Wars,’ and he was like, ‘We just signed Daniel Hudson.’ And so, I mean, the way it came together was incredible. This organization — I have to say, since I’ve been here, can’t say enough about the job they do each offseason giving us pieces to win, so it’s come together really, really well.”
Rizzo gave Harris, 35, and Hudson, 32, multi-year deals, because, he explained, he knows each well, and believes that both will be able to contribute in their mid-30s, adding some versatile, durable, veteran arms to what was otherwise a relatively unproven mix.
“[Harris] has had I think 17 days on the [IL] in the last five years, and has been a competent, solid, every day relief pitcher that gives us some steadiness at the back end of the game,” Rizzo said.
“And when you put Doolittle and Harris and Hudson and Strickland and the emergence of Rainey and Suero along with Doolittle and Elias, I think that you’re coming into the season with a solid bullpen, and we’ve got ourselves a good rotation, when they’re healthy they’re as good as anybody, and a real competent, steady lineup that can go through the rigors of the 162 and then give us a chance to go deeper.”
The message Doolittle said the signings sent to the players already within the organization?
“I think it says a lot,” the 33-year-old closer said. “I think last year — starting pitching has always been a strength of this organization. The best teams that they’ve had here, that’s kind of been the trademark. Relief pitching, it’s just so inherently volatile. You can make moves, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but they’ve never not gone for it, and they always try to bring in the pieces.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t go the way that you want it to go, but then sometimes it comes together and you find the right pieces and that puzzle fits together really, really well. I think bringing in a guy like Will Harris is really, really important. The versatility that he brings. Being able to come in and pitch in so many different situations. Huddy is the same way. It gives us depth, it gives us options, plus the guys that are coming back from last year, they take a step forward, and next thing you know you’ve got a really deep and a good bullpen.”