Houston Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch told reporters at the Winter Meetings that though he did reach out to Will Harris over the past couple months since the season ended, he did not try to lobby the reliever to return to the ‘Stros.
Harris, 35, became a free agent this winter after a strong 2019 campaign which ended with the righty giving up late-game home runs in each of his final two appearances, one of which was Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead blast in the Washington Nationals’ win in Game 7 of the World Series, but the eight-year veteran finished the regular season with a 1.50 ERA, a 3.15 FIP, 14 walks (2.10 BB/9), 62 strikeouts (9.30 K/9), and a .196/.246/.294 line against in 60 innings pitched.
“I’ve talked to Will through text occasionally,” Hinch said, “... but I really just try to maintain the relationship and not get into: What’s happening with you? I don’t want to get into the gossip. I don’t want to know every detail. I’m not interested in the money. That’s not my job.
“My job is at the so-called exit interview to make them understand they know exactly where they stand with me.
“I’ll be lifelong friends with Will. He and I came into the Astros at the same time, and he certainly is a great addition to anybody that has him on their team.”
Hinch and Harris both joined the Astros in 2015, and the reliever put up a 2.36 ERA and 2.99 FIP with 60+ appearances in four of their five campaigns together in Houston, but the right-hander opted to join the Washington Nationals after testing the free agent market, signing a 3-year/$24M deal with the team that beat his now-former club in the Fall Classic.
Harris has been successful in the big leagues in spite of the fact that he isn’t a high-velocity pitcher, relying instead on a two-pitch mix of a cutter which averaged 91.5 MPH last season (and on which opposing hitters had a .242 AVG) and a curveball (81.5 MPH AVG; .151 BAA in 2019).
“I think there’s obviously really a big place in the game for guys who throw really hard, and if I could, or was capable of doing it I definitely would,” Harris joked this week, after signing his deal with the Nationals.
“It’s not something that I’m throttling back or anything like that,” he added.
“I’ve always had my way of doing it, and I’ve always been successful in my little niche of throwing cutters and curveballs and moving the ball around and pitching up and spinning the breaking ball off of that, and so I think me being successful in that gives me more confidence in it.”
A mix of hard-throwing relievers, and softer-tossing pitchers can be a good thing for the mix in the bullpen anyway, Harris suggested.
“I think variety is good. We had that in Houston. We had that in Arizona when I was part of a good bullpen before, where I think it’s important to have guys that do a lot of different things and give a team a lot of different looks, and obviously give a manager a lot of variety to match up.
“And so me not throwing like the next guy I think is a positive for all parties involved.”
In the Nationals’ bullpen, Harris will be joining a relief corps that is likely to feature closer Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elías, and Kyle Finnegan, who signed a major league deal with the club earlier this winter.
As of the time he spoke with reporters on Friday afternoon, Harris said he hadn’t discussed what role he would fill in manager Davey Martinez’s ‘pen.
“I didn’t have a discussion with them about it, and it wasn’t important to me. I wasn’t going out into the market place saying that I had to do this or I had to do that or wanted to throw this inning,” he said.
“In my time in Houston I had I think every single role that I think was imaginable for a reliever. I think I made the team in 2015 as the long reliever, per se, not that those really exist anymore, but I’ve done it all. I’ve been a closer at some point, I’ve been a set-up man, I’ve been a left-handed specialist at some point, as a right-hander, so for me that wasn’t important, I just want to pitch well, and I want to win games.
“That was more of my focus, going to — obviously a team that wants you is very important, but more so a team that I was going to feel comfortable and a team that wants to win, and a team that’s coming off a World Series championship is definitely going to check all those boxes.”
Harris’s success against left-handed hitters, as he mentioned, has allowed him to fill any role he’s asked to comfortably as he tries to help his team win games.
He’s held left-handed batters to a .213/.262/.297 line in his career, and held right-handed batters to a .230/.286/.366 line.
“I think it’s the combination of the cutter and throwing a depth breaking ball,” Harris said when asked what was behind his career splits.
“I think it’s been kind of proven that righties that throw depth breaking balls to lefties seem to have more success.
“Just look at Charlie Morton and what he does against lefties with the curveball that he throws. I just take some guys that I’ve played with and have seen the way that they have approached left-handed hitters and it just kind of seems that can be a better pitch than some other ones I guess you can choose from.
“So I think a combination of both, being able to get in on them and any time you can throw inside on a hitter and then spin a breaking ball after that is a good recipe for it.
“I think being able to throw inside for strikes is the most important, to establish that, to make them honest and maybe speed them up a little bit, so it’s just kind of been always something that felt natural to me to face left-handed hitters and I don’t ever feel like I’m in an uncomfortable situation.”
Harris said coming to the team that beat the Astros this past October might seem to be an uncomfortable situation, but he got over any issues with the idea early when he hit the free agent market, and eventually decided the Nationals were the best fit for him and his family.
“It didn’t take me very long. It took me a little while thinking about it, I was like, ‘Look, man, there’s a lot of baseball left to play,’ and I’m looking forward to doing it in an organization that I’m really comfortable being a part of.”