Daniel Hudson didn’t know Kyle Finnegan well when the Washington Nationals signed the 29-year-old reliever to a major league deal last winter, after seven seasons in the Oakland A’s system in which he never got the call to pitch for the Athletics.
“Kyle, being a relatively unknown, especially to this organization,” Hudson said, “... coming into Spring Training , didn’t really know a whole lot about him, but I really got to know him pretty well down in the bullpen this year, and off the field he’s a great guy.
“What he was able to do in his first taste in the big leagues was very impressive as well.”
Finnegan, a 2013 6th Round pick by the A’s, made 25 appearances in the 60-game season last summer, finishing the year with a 2.92 ERA, a 3.76 FIP, 13 walks (4.74 BB/9), and 27 Ks (9.85 K/9) in 24 2⁄3 innings pitched, over which hitters had a .226/.327/.312 line against him, and just two home runs (0.73 HR/9).
His biggest takeaway from his rookie campaign?
Kyle Finnegan, Wicked 88mph Slider (release/spin axis/slow) pic.twitter.com/hHxzQDZVHC— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2020
“The biggest takeaway for me is the confidence that I can compete at that level,” Finnegan told reporters in a Zoom call from Spring Training 2021 over the weekend. “And I have what it takes to get the job done. So that was a huge positive. As far as things to work on, I think I threw strikes as a whole last year, but I want to work on my command within the strike zone, so maybe throwing more quality strikes, especially with the fastball. So that was a big focal point for me during the offseason.”
Finnegan averaged 95 MPH with his sinker, which he threw 70.5% of the time, and against which opposing hitters had a combined .259 AVG, and mixed in a slider (20.9%, 87.2 MPH, .143 BAA), and a splitter (8.4%, 86.8 MPH, .100 BAA).
“I felt great all year,” the reliever said.
“Going through the minor leagues, I’ve had experience in every aspect of the bullpen. I was a starter early in my career, then I was a closer in the minor leagues, two-inning guy, one-out guy, so it was nothing new for me last year, a lot more emphasis on making sure you’re ready to go every single day because especially in a sprint season like it was last year, every game matters three-fold, so I think I was able to make it through, I was healthy, I felt good and I was ready to go.”
Though he was happy with the overall results, as he said, he wanted to focus on command in his offseason workouts.
“It’s just an execution thing,” he explained. “So, there were times last year trying to throw a fastball up and in to a lefty I would leave it arm-side, it would end up up and away.
“It might be a swing and a miss, good result, but still failure on the execution.
“So, that would be a case where, yes you threw a strike, but you didn’t execute exactly what you were trying to do and there are certain situations where that can really hurt you, so that was a big focal point for me.”
As he went along in his first big league run, opposing teams adjusted once they got a book on him, and the righty did what he could to adjust in return.
“The more you face guys, the more you get an idea of what they’re trying to do and vice versa,” Finnegan said.
“So you’ve got to kind of be unpredictable at times, but at the same time you have to stay to your strengths. We always talk about don’t pitch to a hitter’s weakness unless it’s one of your strengths. When they match up then you kind of hammer that. So, game by game, at bat by at bat, it’s that constant back and forth, between the hitter and the pitcher and you got to try to stay one step ahead.”
After seven seasons in the minors and a truncated major league campaign, does it feel any different to be in Spring Training after finally taking the step he’d fought so hard to take?
“Mentally, it’s kind of they’re all the same to me,” he said. “I kind of try to keep that mindset of I don’t have a spot. I got to earn my spot. Early on in Spring it’s all about getting your feet back under you and being really cognizant of your health and how you feel and taking it slow getting ready, and getting back into the groove of things. So, I feel great these first couple days, just trying to build off that day-by-day and not look too far down the road about making the team or roles or anything like that, just take it one day at a time, and build off of that.”