WASHINGTON – Kyle Finnegan was walking through the Nationals’ clubhouse last month when Davey Martinez summoned him to the manager’s office.
“Davey kind of called me in and just kind of laid it on me,” the reliever told Federal Baseball this week. “He told me congratulations, you earned it and you are going to make the team. It was short and sweet and perfect.”
Finnegan, 28, after seven years in the minors, was headed to the majors for the first time.
He called his parents with the good news then spoke to his wife and daughter back home in suburban Houston.
A few days later, on July 25, he made his Major League debut and needed just 13 pitches to throw a scoreless inning out of the bullpen against the Yankees.
The opponent was significant since extended family has rooted generations for the Bronx Bombers. His parents moved from Long Island to Texas before he was born and Finnegan still has several cousins who live in New York.
That debut was just the beginning.
The former Texas State standout didn’t allow a run in his first 10 outings for the Nationals.
In games through Thursday, the right-hander was 1-0 with an ERA of 1.64 and a WHIP of 1.00 for the Nationals.
“I felt good when we left Florida (in March). We got down to 30 some players left in camp and I was still around,” he said. “I was definitely pleased about that. I knew I was going to have to play my way into one of those spots. That was my focus during the shutdown.”
Finian’s Rainbow is a 1968 musical fantasy film that starred Fred Astaire – but there has been no fantasy in the ascent of Finnegan.
“Kyle has been a pleasant surprise for us,” pitching coach Paul Menhart wrote in a text to Federal Baseball this week. “He’s taking advantage of this unorthodox opportunity. The future is definitely bright for this young man.”
“He’s very poised, good kid. Has a lot of energy, but he doesn’t seem to get rattled at anything,” Martinez told reporters this month.
“I love working with Paul,” Finnegan said of Menhart, who took over as pitching coach in May 2019.
Finnegan was drafted out of Texas State in the sixth round in 2013 by Oakland. Among his teammates in college were pitcher Donnie Hart, who broke in with the Orioles in 2016 and is now in the Oakland system, and Paul Goldschmidt, a slugger for the Cardinals.
A right-hander, Finnegan appeared in 232 games, with 63 starts, in the minors. Last season he split time between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Las Vegas after he was invited to spring training with Oakland as a non-roster player.
He suffered through a rough season in the hitter-friendly Single-A California League in 2015 with Stockton, when he logged an ERA of 5.87 in 28 games, with 24 starts. He made it to Triple-A for the first time in 2017 with Nashville.
“It is definitely tough, but I also had a pretty good attitude,” he said. “I made a decision early on that I was going to take it as far as I could – until I was released basically.”
Finnegan was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic when he was contacted by the Nationals through his agency, The Warner Companies, which has an office in suburban Baltimore.
“I started receiving, honestly, a lot more attention than I thought” he would, he said. “I knew I was going to get an opportunity. On the first day, I had 18 teams contact me – no hard offers on the first day, just trying to get in touch with my agent and talk through some things. I didn’t have any talks (at first) of Major League deals. Then my agent called me and said the Nats were willing to give (me) a big-league deal. That was a dream scenario.”
One of the players he knew in the Nationals’ system was pitcher Austen Williams, one of his teammates in college who made his MLB debut with the Nationals in 2018.
“He is a really good friend; so I had that connection with him,” Finnegan said.
After signing with the Nationals in December, Finnegan reported to spring training in West Palm Beach.
“I was super excited trying to make that good first impression,” he said. “Everybody was super welcoming. There is just a great culture built around winning. Winning the World Series is mentioned almost daily. It was really exciting to work every day with that goal in mind and get to know everybody. I felt comfortable right off the bat. I had a great time down in Florida.”
Then, of course, the sports world shut down in March due to COVID-19 concerns. During the shutdown, he went home to Houston and worked out at his house with fellow pitcher Ben Bracewell – a former teammate in the Oakland system.
“I had a bullpen built in my backyard and workout regiment in my garage,” said Finnegan, who lives with his wife, Rachel, and daughter Brayden, 8, northeast of downtown Houston.
The work paid off as he showed up at Summer Camp and made the roster to start the year.
Since then the team has struggled in a year of many challenges off the field – be it the pandemic or how to handle racial unrest in light of police confrontations with people of color.
Finnegan was asked Thursday afternoon if he would support the Nationals not playing later that day as a show of support for other pro teams that have decided not to play as a protest against social unrest.
“In these times, it’s important for us to be together,” Finnegan told Federal Baseball. “We will have that discussion as a team. I don’t know what that attitude will be for us.”
A few hours later the Phillies decided not to play the game Thursday night in Washington and the Nationals backed the decision as Martinez and veteran Josh Harrison addressed the media. The game was slated to be the FOX game of the night with Max Scherzer on the mound for the Nationals.
“We use our platform to go out there and show kids how to have fun doing what we do, give back to your communities. We do all those things,” Harrison told reporters.
“This is a brotherhood. We bang heads every day on the field. We love to compete. But we stand with one another when these things happen,” Martinez said.
After that it was on to Boston for a series with the Red Sox. Finnegan has been staying at a hotel near Nationals Park; he was able to tour the U.S. Capital years ago when he attended a rookie orientation program. He has yet to take a tour of the National Mall and monuments.
“I have never done that,” he said. “It is something I really want to do. With all of the restrictions, I really want to play it safe.”