When the team bottomed out at 19-31, the bullpen ERA was way up at 7.02, worst in the majors by almost a full run. While the team clawed back into contention, it was still clear that GM Mike Rizzo had to bolster the bullpen at the trade deadline.
Though the acquisitions of Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elías got more hype at the time, it was the addition of Daniel Hudson that had franchise-altering results the rest of the way.
The right-hander posted a spectacular 1.44 ERA the rest of the regular season for the Nats as he rose from fireman to closer. That continued in the postseason as he held a 3.72 ERA, converting all four save opportunities and recording the final out of the year.
Hudson’s excellent performance was crucial because incumbent closer, Sean Doolittle, wore down at the end of the regular season following a high workload early in the year.
“I can’t say enough about what an awesome addition he’s been to our bullpen,” Doolittle said about his bullpen mate during the NLCS, “and to our clubhouse, obviously, stabilizing the bullpen and picking us up down there more times than we can count.
“But he’s an awesome teammate, and we’re really lucky to have him.”
The two relievers instantly became friends, sharing a selfless attitude at the back-end of the bullpen. Neither carried an ego about being the top dog at the end of games as they were mixed and matched to close out games based on the upcoming matchups.
That friendship carried on into the offseason, with Doolittle constantly checking in to see if the Nats could bring back the reliever who recorded the most iconic out in franchise history.
“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 told reporters at Winterfest. “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.”
While the team waited on a decision from Hudson, they brought in another reliever in the form of a man who they faced and had success off of in the Fall Classic...
“We signed Will Harris, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Doolittle also said. “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.”
But at the time, the signing of Harris seemed to leave a reunion with Hudson as a longshot.
“Then I was wondering what that meant for Huddy, that’s my guy,” Doolittle explained.
In reality though, the Nationals were back on the phone the next day still trying to work something out with the unlikely hero of their World Series-winning bullpen.
“We kind of had a talk that day that Will signed,” Hudson told reporters on a conference call last week. “We obviously couldn’t work anything out that day, and then a couple hours later they signed Will, and I pretty much thought that kind of closed the book on it.
“But they circled back the next day, and said that they were still interested and wanted to try to work something out, so we kind of just kept the dialogue open from there.”
The Harris agreement was made on January 3rd and it took just three more days for the Nationals and Hudson to come to an agreement on a two-year, $11 million contract.
The news of Hudson’s agreement broke at an interesting time for his biggest fan.
“I was in the middle of a podcast with [NBC Sports Washington’s] Todd [Dybas],” Doolittle explained. “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.’”
The left-hander’s reaction was priceless and Dybas posted it to Twitter later that day...
“I got really close with him last year and he became one of my really good friends,” Doolittle continued on the Nationals Talk podcast. “I’ve tried really hard not to pry too much into his free agency but all the while I wanted him to know that we wanted him back, I wanted him back.
“I think after authoring probably the most iconic image in the Washington Nationals’ history — getting the final out of the World Series — that he should be back.”
Doolittle’s real-time reaction was amazing and eventually, it found its way to the ears of Hudson who was asked about whether he heard it once the signing became official.
“A couple people had sent me that link,” Hudson said. “I don’t have social media anymore, but a couple people sent me that link, and I heard it.
“It was pretty funny how the conversation kind of broke from, I think you guys were talking about Star Wars. A pretty funny reaction.
“I kept in contact with Doo throughout the whole offseason and it was just he was kind of asking me how things were going and kept reiterating how much he wanted me back.
“I kept saying I’d love to be back as well, so as soon as like you said, everything broke, I got a text message from Doo saying how excited he was.”
While they don’t have a cool couple nickname or friendship bracelets just yet, after talking about it all offseason, Doolittle and Hudson are finally reunited and it feels so good.