Acquired by the Washington Nationals (along with infielder Jordy Barley) in a July 30th deal with San Diego that sent veteran reliever Daniel Hudson to the Padres, rookie righty Mason Thompson made a strong impression pitching out of the Nats’ bullpen over the last couple months of the 2021 campaign, even if the results weren’t always what he and the club hoped they would be.
“He had his struggles,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters late this past season, “but in moments he showed signs that he can be really good in the bullpen for us.”
Thompson, 23, and a 2016 3rd Round pick out of Round Rock High School in Round Rock, TX, debuted in the majors with the Padres in June of last season, after converting to relief work exclusively in his sixth year in San Diego’s system.
“Big arm, big kid,” Martinez said before the 6’7’’ righty joined the Nationals’ bullpen the day after he was acquired at the July 30th trade deadline.
“He’s had some big league experience ... we watched him, I watched how he’s pitching, my biggest concern, like I always talk about, he throws the ball over the plate.
“He’s got a heavy ball, he’s anywhere from 94-98, so we wanted to give him an opportunity to kind of come here and fit right in and pitch out of our bullpen.”
Thompson was thrown right into the mix with the Nationals, and he told reporters a couple weeks in that he was looking at the time in the big leagues as a learning experience.
“Absolutely,” Thompson explained as he and a number of young Nationals got a shot down the stretch with the rebooting ballclub. “I think that’s the goal for everybody, at any stage, if you have an outing or an at bat that doesn’t go your way, obviously our goal is to learn from it, and then from there, keep working and hopefully put ourselves in a position where we can overcome that the next time.”
While he and some of his teammates were learning on the job, Thompson said, they were all still trying to win ballgames, though the Nationals had a rough post-trade deadline run.
“Definitely have a group of younger guys in the clubhouse, and I think a lot of us are in the same boat as far as trying to get up here and compete as a group,” Thompson said, “while also getting that experience, but of course at the end of the day our goal is to still win and go out there and compete as best as we can and I think so far we’ve done a good job of that, but of course we’re going to face adversity at times, everybody does, and for us it’s important to take these lessons and learn from them and come back better from it.”
“I think a lot of us have kind of the same mindset coming in,” he added, “as far as we’re here to compete and win but we’re also here to learn and to get better, and get experience at this level, and like I said, so far at this point I think we’ve done a good job of that. And we’re just going to continue to go out there each day and compete to the best of our ability and go out there and try to execute, and that’s really the main goal for all of us.”
In his first 14 appearances with the Nationals, Thompson put up a 3.38 ERA, a 4.52 FIP, nine walks, 11 Ks, and a .286/.385/.393 line against in 13 1⁄3 IP.
His manager talked late in the season about what he wanted the reliever to focus on down the stretch as he worked to get comfortable in a bullpen role.
“A lot of our pitchers, relief pitchers, they throw flat ground every day, and I wanted him to incorporate — to go out after he throws his flat ground and gets loose, to go out on the mound and throw 10 pitches, and just throw at 75%, but throw pitches where he wants to work on his location, keeping the ball down and out of 10 pitches, see how many balls he can throw in the location he wants to throw them in and then we’ll go from there.”
Thompson, Martinez said, was open to instruction and taking in everything the team threw at him after he came up to the majors, where he threw 81.1% sinkers in his time with the Nationals, mixing in 13.7% sliders, 4% four-seam fastballs, and the occasional changeup (1%).
“Look, this kid is willing to learn,” Martinez said. “Like I’ve said before, he was a starter, this is his first time pitching in the bullpen. He shows signs where he can be outstanding, he really can.
“We’re going to continue to work with him. He’s a guy that throws 95+, and we’re going to work on his breaking ball and his slider, and hopefully he becomes a guy that we can count on in the bullpen.
“He’s done some good things though. I really like him, I love his attitude, but he’s willing to try anything, and willing to try anything to get better.”