Dakota Bacus pitched in 225 games over eight minor league seasons, parts of two with the Oakland Athletics who drafted him out of Indiana State University in the 9th Round in 2012, and six-plus years with Washington’s Nationals, who acquired him from the A’s in a straight-up trade for Kurt Suzuki in August of 2013.
He pitched in the majors for the first last night, when the Nationals called him up from their Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia to join them in Baltimore, Maryland.
Bacus took the mound in the eighth inning of the completion of last Sunday’s tarp-related postponed matchup with the Orioles, and proceeded to retire the six batters he faced in a two-inning appearance in which he threw 19 pitches total, 14 for strikes, and induced five ground ball outs while striking one batter out.
A total of 15 of 19 pitches were sliders, which he got three swinging and three called strikes with, an 85-87-MPH offering that he paired with a 90-92 MPH sinker.
“As you can see, he threw ground balls,” manager Davey Martinez said after the 29-year-old reliever’s hard-earned MLB debut.
“He’s got a good sinker, he’s got a really good slider/curveball, and he uses all his pitches.”
Bacus’s skipper also liked the confidence the pitcher showed on the mound in his first taste of major league action.
“For a guy that came up for the first time, as you can tell, he knows who he is,” Martinez said.
“He shook Yan Gomes off quite a few times to get to the pitch that he wanted to throw, that he felt comfortable throwing, and that’s good to see.”
“He looked good,” Martinez added. “He threw the ball really well. He got some outs for us. It was good to see. He came in and he looked good.
“He threw the ball, he threw strikes, which is nice.”
Pitching at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Fresno in 2019, Bacus put up a combined 3.59 ERA in 47 games and 56 1⁄3 innings in his eighth minor league season, with 46 appearances for the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate.
Martinez said he was happy to see the hard work and dedication rewarded.
“You said it, he worked really hard to be here,” the former big league outfielder turned big league manager said.
“He threw the ball well. He threw the ball well in Spring Training in March. We liked his stuff.
“He worked really hard during this whole Fredericksburg deal, and we thought he was ready to come up here and help us.
“As you can see he threw the ball exceptionally well, we liked what we saw. Hopefully he continues to do that and helps us win games.”
What does Bacus need to do now that he’s up, in order to be successful here?
“The biggest thing with him is he needs to know who he is and what kind of pitcher he is.
“I think he’s figured that out. Like I said, he did well yesterday.
“He’s a guy that’s been around a little bit, but it’s still his first stint in the big leagues. He told me he was nervous on the bus, and I said, ‘Normal, you’re going to get butterflies,’ I said, but once you get out there just compete and he did that and he was good after the game.”
The difference, in Bacus’s mind, which allowed him to work his way up to this opportunity, he said, was realizing what his manager said he had to.
“It’s just one of those things that you’ve got to buy into who you are, and it took me a long time, about seven years, to actually realize who I was as a pitcher and kind of just go from there and keep to myself, and kind of control everything that I can control,” Bacus said in a Zoom call with reporters a day after he made his big league debut.
With twenty-four hours to think about making it to the majors, and reflect on the journey, Bacus was asked if he’d unpacked it all and thought about what it meant to him?
“Well, I think if you look at my hotel room, it shows, I haven’t really unpacked anything,” he joked.
“So it hasn’t hit me at all. The last 24 hours has been pretty crazy. But yeah, nine years in the minors, again I’m one of those guys with that long story of you’re in the minor leagues, you’re grinding, you’re grinding, I was very fortunate enough to spend [the majority of it] with one team, and for me I feel like the Nats have really taken care of me, and given me plenty of opportunities to showcase myself, and I look at the Nats as a family. So, it’s really cool to do it with this team.”
His success at Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League in 2019, where he walked 28, struck out 52, held hitters to a .239 AVG, and finished with a 1.41 WHIP, provided a confidence boost.
“For me it was realizing where I was at, it’s the PCL, guys want to lift the ball. I’m not one of those pitchers that are going to allow that happen.
“If I do, then it’s one of those days that’s not for me.
“I’m a ground ball guy, so my biggest thing going into the PCL was I got to stay lower than the belt. If I don’t it’s going to be a long year, if I’m still around.
“The biggest thing for me was being able to attack hitters in the right places, execute my pitches, and results obviously were in my favor. I’m not sure if it was luck or anything else, but it was a pretty good year.”
Now that he’s made it to the majors, the trick will be figuring out how to stick, and making himself indispensable so the Nationals keep him around.
“We always hear it’s easy to get here, but it’s harder to stay. So I’m going to do anything I can to help this team and stay here as long as possible.”
Bacus retired the first two batters he faced in his second appearance in the majors, before a two-out single ended his streak. He stranded the first runner that reached base against him, however.