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Washington Nationals’ 2023 Bullpen: Kyle Finnegan will be back at back end of ‘pen

There was interest in Kyle Finnegan at the trade deadline, but the Nationals held on to the controllable reliever...

MLB: SEP 20 Nationals at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There was interest in Kyle Finnegan at this past summer’s trade deadline, but in the end, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo decided to hold on to the hard-throwing, controllable, 31-year-old reliever.

“There was a lot of interest,” in Finnegan, Carl Edwards, Jr., and others Rizzo said, “… but not to the point where you give away a good late-inning guy like Finnegan if you don’t like the prospect return, and you can control him for multiple years. So that’s always the decision process that you make.”

Finnegan went on to post a 3.51 ERA, a 3.15 FIP, nine walks, 26 strikeouts, and a .213/.282/.340 line against in 24 games and 25 23 innings pitched down the stretch, with seven saves in eight save opportunities over the final two months of a season which saw him post a 3.51 ERA, a 3.76 FIP, 22 walks, 70 Ks, and a .221/.284/.381 line against in 66 games and 66 23 IP overall, with 11 saves in 15 total opportunities on the year.

Finnegan closed out games before and after Tanner Rainey went on the IL, and he got late-inning opportunities once Rainey underwent Tommy John surgery.

Following a particularly rough outing in September, Finnegan’s manager talked with reporters about what went wrong for the right-hander, who got lit up for four hits, two walks, and five earned runs in just 23 of an inning in that appearance.

MLB: SEP 20 Nationals at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“‘Hey, some days — when you close games, some days go well, some don’t,’” Martinez said of his message for the reliever after an outing like that one. “The biggest thing for me is that you’ve got to come in there, up four runs, and you’ve got to pound the strike zone. The walks are going to get you.”

A couple weeks later, after Finnegan K’d three batters in a 14-pitch, 1-2-3 inning, his manager talked about what’s different when things are going well for the late-inning arm.

“He was electric, he really was. I mean, his ball had that extra giddy-up at the end, he was attacking the hitters, and when he gets ahead of hitters, he can do that kind of stuff, so it was a good outing for him.”

Finnegan threw 78.8% sinkers on the year, averaging 97 MPH on the pitch, against which opposing hitters had a .217 BAA. He mixed in 12.2% sliders (.280 BAA), and 9.0% split finger fastballs (.200 BAA).

The 78.8% sinkers was actually up from the 68.4% he threw in 2021, and 70.2% he’d thrown in his first big league season after signing with the Nationals on a big league deal prior to 2020, following seven seasons in the Oakland A’s system, in which he never got a shot in the major leagues.

The career-high in sinkers, of course, came in a season which began with the reliever saying he was determined to throw fewer sinking fastballs.

“I think I was able to use my fastball a lot, more so than most other people’s pitch mixes,” Finnegan said in his first press availability of the season from the Washington Nationals’ spring home in March 2022.

MLB: SEP 20 Nationals at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“To be able to be fastball-heavy in a league that hits the fastball very well, and still have some success was good, but I definitely want to work on my offspeed, and use it more, throwing both offspeed pitches, the splitter and the slider, to both right-handed and left-handed [hitters] and start to locate it more, throwing sliders for strikes, not just swing and miss, and then using that to complement the fastball approach.”

“It’s something — I think talking with our analytics team it’s a pitch that maybe plays better than my usage,” Finnegan said of his splitter last spring, “so maybe kind of nudge myself in that direction to use it a little more and see if I can get some more success and get people off the fastball, because that’s my go-to [pitch].

“So, giving them something else to think about will help the fastball.”

His slider usage actually dropped from 19.4% to 12.2% and his splitter usage fell as well, from 12.2 to 9.0%, so maybe he mixes it up more in 2023?