With no established closer, but several arms at the back end who have in the past saved a few games, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said going into the season he’d likely match up in the late innings, at least at the start.
“We’re definitely going to have to match up for the first part of this year,” Martinez said on the club’s workout day before the season opener. “I think the closer role will take care of itself once we get going. As you know, we have some veteran guys who have done it in the past, and we also have some young guys that I feel like can step into that role. One being [Tanner] Rainey, the other being [Kyle] Finnegan, and I know we tried that last year with [Finnegan], but I will say this, he pitched a lot for us last year, he was the one guy that we felt like he was was very consistent, and we used him a lot. So he really didn’t get a fair shake, you know, if we do decide that, whether it’s the eighth inning or ninth inning with him.
“But we’re very definitely going to have to match them up, but I think that he very well can do it as well.”
Finnegan made 68 appearances in 2021, with a 3.55 ERA, a 4.52 FIP, 34 walks (4.64 BB/9), 68 Ks (9.27 K/9), 11 saves in 15 save opportunities, and a .251/.344/.404 line against in 66 innings, struggling at times in the closer’s role, but putting an impressive season together overall.
Coming into Spring Training, the reliever, (who’d signed a big league deal with the Nationals before the 2020 season, following six seasons in Oakland’s system after the A’s drafted him in the 6th Round in 2013), said he wasn’t sure what role he would fill, though he figured he’d work at the back end of the bullpen one way or another in 2022.
“I think it will be in the back of the bullpen somewhere,” Finnegan told reporters last month.
“I haven’t been given a role of any type, so my focus right now is just getting my body and my arm where it needs to be and working on pitches and fine-tuning, and I don’t know that it really matters much to me, because no matter what I’m going to be doing the same things to get myself ready to go, so that’s really where my focus is right now.”
His manager took note of the focus Finnegan brought to the mound this spring.
“This year in Spring Training he came out in Spring Training throwing 98 MPH from day one, I was like, ‘Woah, woah, woah, back off a little bit, we’ve got a long year,’” Martinez joked before the season opener. “But he’s amped up, and he’s ready. But like I said, anything right now can happen. We did a lot of work on the Mets and how they plan to utilize all their players, so we’re just going to have to match up and go from there.”
Martinez also discussed the fact that they only brought one lefty-hander north from West Palm Beach, with Sean Doolittle back in the mix for another run with the club after a few seasons away for the 2019 World Series champ, cautioning that the Opening Day roster is just that, and will inevitably change (as it already has — with Mason Thompson placed on the 10-Day IL with right biceps tendinitis, and one-time Orioles’ prospect Hunter Harvey called up on Sunday).
“Opening Day is only one day,” Martinez said. “This could rapidly change as we get going, but I’m very confident in the ten guys we’re going to have down there in the bullpen. I really am. I mean, these guys had good Spring Trainings, they were throwing the ball well, so I’m excited to watch them go out there and compete.”
Coming out of the first series of the new season, Martinez discussed where things stood after a four-game sample of what the club has in the bullpen, and how he’d use four arms, Steve Cishek, Doolittle, Rainey, and Finnegan, interchangeably at the back end.
“Right now we’re just lining them up, but it worked out really well with the way things got set up,” in Sunday’s win over the Mets, Martinez said, with Cishek in the sixth, before he came back out in the seventh, Doolittle finishing the seventh inning, a scoreless frame from Finnegan in the eighth, and then Rainey in the ninth, after the home team took a 4-2 lead with a three-run bottom of the eighth inning.
“I wanted — Cishek, I was hoping he could get the first two outs before we go to [Doolittle], and then we’ll see what happened, and it didn’t work out that way, but Doo came in again and threw the ball really well, I mean, he was awesome. And he was jacked up. And I think he fired up the boys a little bit.”
Getting to use his “A-pen” after losses in the first three games gave Martinez an opportunity to see what that will look like going forward.
“Like I said, it worked out good. [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey and I were on it, we were talking the whole game, and it worked out well today, and these guys, like I said, Rainey, Finnegan, Doo, and I thought Cishek threw the ball well too, as well, so those guys did well, so I’m proud of the way the guys went out today.”