James Bourque debuted in the majors last season, with one appearance (in which he gave up three hits, two walks, and four earned runs in 2⁄3 of an inning), but after putting up solid numbers at Double-A Harrisburg (1.33 ERA in 20 1⁄3 IP), he struggled at Triple-A (a 5.56 ERA over 43 2⁄3 IP) when he was optioned there from the big league club.
With the expanded rosters at the start of this season, however, the 27-year-old Washington Nationals’ 2014 14th Round pick made the 30-Man Opening Day roster in the bullpen.
Not worrying about where he’d end up when Spring Training was over, Bourque said when he spoke with reporters on a Zoom call on Saturday afternoon, helped him concentrate on the work he needed to get done.
“I think I went into Spring Training this year with the mindset that I wanted to focus on what I was doing and not try to — my job is not to be the GM — so I’m not deciding who’s making the team,” Bourque explained.
“I can just go out there and control what I’m doing and my mindset, and I think that I kind of took that into Spring Training, and thought I just want to go out there and show the staff, show the front office that I can help this team win, and I think that actually just made it a lot easier to go out and pitch and do what I’m supposed to do. So I really didn’t concern myself too much about the roster, and the guys we already had. For me it was more just what can I do to make sure that I help this team out whenever they need me. Right now, they decided that they need me right now.
“I’m just ready to jump in whenever, so it’s that like always ready mindset.
“Not worrying about what everybody else is doing, just making sure that when they do call my name that I’m ready to go.”
Bourque learned he was going to be on the roster earlier this week, after the Nationals’ road game against the Orioles in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
“It was actually after the scrimmage in Baltimore,” he said. “When we got back [Manager] Davey [Martinez] called me into the office and just said, ‘Hey, we want you on the team, we’re bringing you on for the start of the season, want you to be there for Opening Day.’
“It was pretty nonchalant, it wasn’t like some big, huge moment, but it just felt good. I feel like I put in a lot of work in Spring Training, and during quarantine, and it felt like that was kind of like the affirmation, so it was just nice to feel that they have confidence in me and they want to give me another chance to go out there and show what I can do.”
“He’s got two really good pitches,” Martinez said when he talked about the roster decisions the club made before the season opener. “And the biggest thing with him is strikes, and he proved that he could throw strikes. We like his stuff.”
Bourque said throwing strikes, particularly with his breaking ball, was the focus for him as he prepared for the 2020 campaign over the winter and in Spring Training(s) 1.0 and 2.0.
“I think it was mostly just working on throwing the breaking ball for strikes,” he said.
“Maybe going like 0-0 breaking ball for strikes, just to get ahead of guys, I think that was the biggest focus for me.
“If I can get ahead I feel pretty good about where I’m at. But, also just working on trying to develop a changeup, and not necessarily develop it, but just have confidence throwing it to lefties and righties. So, I think that’s something that we worked on this kind of like Summer Camp, and we feel pretty good about.
“But other than, just really getting ahead and letting my stuff do the work.”
Though he struggled at times last season, Bourque said he took it as a learning opportunity and his mindset going into the 2020 campaign is that he knows he belongs and want to be able to prove it.
“Obviously last year it didn’t go very well,” Bourque said. “But I learned from that and I think being around the guys you just see they all go about their work really well, and they’re all very dedicated, but they also, once they do get out there they know who they are, they trust their stuff, and I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned — was just once you’re here you’re here for a reason, and you’re good enough to be here, and that you don’t need to do anything spectacular, you just need to be who you are, and I think that I kind of embraced that in Spring Training and it helped out, and had some success there, so just going to try to continue that and bring it into the regular season.”
In his first appearance of the year last night, Bourque worked around a leadoff double by Giancarlo Stanton for a scoreless, 16-pitch, 10-strike appearance in the Nationals’ 9-2 win.