Davey Martinez was excited to see Hunter Strickland in Grapefruit League action, after the 31-year-old reliever struggled at times last season following the trade from Seattle.
“Strickland was hurt before we got him,” Martinez told reporters early this Spring, “so he had to get built back up and he’s healthy now.”
Strickland made just four appearances in the majors in 2019 before he was acquired from the Mariners ahead of the trade deadline last July, with three in March and just one prior to the trade, when he returned from a long stint on the Injured List with a Grade 2 right lat strain.
“We know that Strickland was a closer at one point,” Martinez said. “And from what I’ve seen so far he’s really throwing the ball well early in camp, so I’m looking forward to watching.”
His bullpen mate, Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle, said that Strickland did a lot of work late in 2019, after he started strong out of the Nats’ bullpen (0.90 ERA, .152/.216/.212 line against in his first 10 IP), then struggled (9.00 ERA, 5 HRs, .313/.400/.688 in his next 11 IP) before he got hit hard in the NLDS (4 ER, 3 HR in 2.0 IP) and was left off the roster for the NLCS and World Series.
“I’m excited to see where Strickland is at after all the work that he was doing throughout the whole World Series run,” Doolittle said this winter.
“He was working his butt off to make some adjustments, so I’m excited to see where he’s at.”
Strickland was part of the championship club, and he enjoyed it, but he said this winter that his own 2019 campaign was frustrating.
“On a personal level, obviously I was hurt for the majority of the year, back and forth, and on a personal level it wasn’t as successful [a season] as I would want it to be,” he explained. “So just trying to fine tune some things there, and work on that and just overall perform better.”
Going into Spring Training healthy, Strickland said, would be important.
“I think it will be huge. I’m looking forward to it and just take it day by day and be ready to go whenever my name is called.”
“Last year, we traded for him because we obviously thought he can help us,” Martinez told MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato, as quoted in a March 6th article.
“We knew coming in that he was not quite there health-wise,” the manager added, “but we feel like this year is going to be a big year for him.”
Strickland and the Nationals agreed on a 1-year/$1.6M deal this winter, avoiding arbitration, but the right-hander struggled in Spring Training, giving up 12 hits (3 HRs), nine runs (eight earned), walking one, and striking out nine in 6 2⁄3 IP over which hitters had a .364 AVG.
Martinez talked earlier this month about Strickland’s location being an issue for him.
“Pitchers have got to understand that just because you’re throwing 96-97 (MPH), you’ve still got to locate your fastball,” the manager said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“And that’s something he’s got to hone in on. We’ve got to get him to understand that he has to make pitches. He can’t just throw the ball 97 mph. He’s got to understand that he’s got to throw a 97 mph fastball with purpose. And he’s really trying to do that.”
On Saturday, following the decision by Major League Baseball to end Spring Training early and postpone the beginning of the regular season by at least two weeks, due to concerns over the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, the Nationals released Strickland, making him a free agent as the baseball world waits to see when the 2019 campaign will actually begin.