Kyle Finnegan talked after earning his 6th of 11 saves this past season, about getting a big opportunity following the club’s sell-off at the trade deadline to work in the closer’s role.
“I think getting experience in that role is great, I’m enjoying it,” the now-30-year-old reliever said a few days before he celebrated his 30th birthday in early September.
“The high-pressure situations, the leverage situations are great for my confidence,” he said.
“You know, getting — been able to get the job done a few times, and just really trying to enjoy the experience, and take it one pitch at a time and not think too macro with it, and just kind of keep my head down and focus.”
What Finnegan focused on when given the chance to close out games was treating it like it was any other inning he had worked in.
“I think the biggest thing is don’t let the situation get too big, it’s the same game,” Finnegan told reporters. “You got the ball in your hand, you control what you do next, so just kind of filter that focus down into little singular controllable things and try to execute those as best you can.”
In 25 games and 25 innings pitched following the July 30th trade deadline, Finnegan, (a one-time Oakland A’s prospect who spent seven seasons in the minors in the Athletics’ system between 2013-2019 before signing a major league deal with the Nationals, for whom he made his big league debut in 2020’s 60-game campaign), put up a 3.96 ERA, 5.81 FIP, 13 walks (4.68 BB/9), and 22 Ks (7.92 K/9), with a .263/.364/.484 line against.
“I think the one thing, if I had to nitpick things, is the bases on balls,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said in early September in assessing Finnegan’s work.
“We talk a lot about he’s really good when he gets ahead. We showed him numbers when he gets ahead, the one thing I want him to really focus on and talk about coming into Spring Training, is really knowing a put-out pitch on every hitter. How do want to get a guy out, every hitter? This way he doesn’t go in there, and even if a guy fouls off two fastballs, and you know that, ‘Hey, I can still get him out with a fastball.’ There’s no reason for him to go out and try to throw a slider, and all of a sudden get beat by a slider, and he’s scratching his head knowing that he can get him out with a fastball.
“I just want him to be comfortable, once he gets to two strikes, knowing what he wants to do to get him out on that particular pitch, and stay with it.”
After he got to 0-1, Finnegan had a .172/.245/.283 line against in 2021, with a .121/.183/.212 line against after he got to 0-2.
Finnegan had success and he struggled working in the closer’s role after both Brad Hand and Daniel Hudson were dealt, and with Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero sent out to the club’s top minor league affiliate to get sorted out after dealing with their own issues, and Martinez talked over the final weeks of a disappointing season about where the righty will work in the future.
“Moving forward, I think he’s shown us that in high-leverage situations, he’s pretty good,” the manager said.
“And we’re going to probably utilize him in the future in the seventh, eighth, ninth inning, depending on what happens, but he’s done well.”
In his first 17 appearances and 17 2⁄3 IP after the deadline, Finnegan had a 1.02 ERA, a 4.25 FIP, seven walks, 14 Ks, and a .206/.286/.349 line against, but in his final eight games, he posted an 11.05 ERA, a 9.58 FIP, six walks, eight Ks, and a .375/.500/.750 line against in 7 1⁄3 IP. Did he hit a wall going deep in the season after 2020’s COVID-shortened campaign? Did his late-season struggles raise concerns?
“No,” Martinez explained. “I’m concerned more where he’s throwing the ball, location. He’s a sinker ball [guy] that throws 96 that’s throwing the ball up ... he’s got to get the ball down.
“We’ve got a lot of numbers, a lot of stuff on him and where he’s at, and the trainers say that he’s good, he’s built himself up to go this far, and honestly, if we were headed to the playoffs, I want to see what he can do, and he wants to see what he can do.”
With all the data that they did have saying he was better working down in the zone, how did he end up working up?
“Sometimes you get to read all these analytics about pitching up, you know, and for him, it’s been counterproductive,” Martinez said.
“He’s a guy, like I said, he’s really good when he throws the ball down. He sinks the ball and moves the ball in and out. When he’s down, his slider’s a lot better. He can throw it down, and his split’s a lot better. So like I said, I talked to him after the game about it, and we’re going to work with him, and hopefully he starts getting the ball down and we’ll see if the results are better.”