clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Washington Nationals & Jake McGee hoping time together is mutually beneficial...

Jake McGee has history with both Davey Martinez and Jim Hickey and they’re hoping they can help each other down the stretch this season...

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

As Davey Martinez explained it after the Washington Nationals claimed 36-year-old, left-handed reliever Jake McGee off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers on August 9th and called him up to pitch out of the big league bullpen, there was a need, and some history with the southpaw, so the club took a shot.

“He became available,” Martinez said, “... as you know, we have no lefties in our bullpen.

“He’s a veteran guy, felt like the last couple months we could give him an opportunity here and maybe we could straighten him out and do something for him, you know. So I think that was the whole plan. I love Jake McGee, I had him in Tampa, [former Rays and current Nats’ pitching coach Jim] Hickey’s had him, so we felt like maybe he could come here and help straighten [out].”

As for a quick-take assessment of what went wrong for McGee, first in San Francisco, then in Milwaukee earlier this season, with the veteran posting a 7.00 ERA, a 4.71 FIP, and rough .301/.339/.513 line against in 30 games and 27 innings pitched?

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

“He was a big fastball guy, a real top of the zone fastball guy,” Martinez said of what he said he remembered from McGee in Tampa Bay. “[It looked] like, after watching a couple videos, he was trying to throw the ball down, you know, so now for me, we’ve got to get him back up, get him to use his four-seamer a lot more and go from there and we’ll see where he’s at with his breaking pitches.”

In 2020-21, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Giants, McGee posted a combined 2.70 ERA, and a 2.93 FIP, so he’s older, but not far removed from putting up solid numbers in the big leagues, and he’s got a, “... 3.67 ERA with 79 saves in 638 career games,” as the Nats noted in their press release on bringing him up, adding, “he recorded a career-high 31 saves with San Francisco in 2021.”

“I think like early in the year my mechanics were a little off, and then I came back off the IL and I had like nine scoreless appearances and then I didn’t throw for five-six days at a time and it was kind of hard to be consistent with that,” McGee told reporters after making his debut for the Nationals with a scoreless inning of relief against San Diego on Friday night.

During the nine-game stretch he mentioned, from May 31-June 21, McGee did throw 7.2 IP without allowing a run, striking out four, walking one, and holding hitters to a combined .083/.120/.083 line over that stretch, though in his next 10 appearances he put up a 10.00 ERA, a 7.01 FIP, and a .372/.400/.628 line against in nine innings between the Giants and Brewers’ bullpens.

“I just need to locate better up in the zone, and I realize now I need to throw my slider more, and then even last night, the one thing they wanted me [to do] is get my slider a little slower and it was down to 82-83 last night and earlier in the year it was 86-90 so it’s already a good start to build off of,” McGee said on Friday night.

“He talked to Hickey about it,” Martinez said of McGee wanting to throw his slider more with the Nationals. “I heard about it, and we just told him, like yesterday he came in, we just said, ‘Hey, look, you just go out there,’ and the biggest thing for him is to throw strikes. We like when he throws his elevated fastball, like [Sean Doolittle] used to do. For us, he was a lot better when he threw the ball up in the zone, he got a better spin rate. And then he talked about throwing a different slider than he normally does and incorporating that more. Because he used to be just a power pitcher, fastball guy, upper 90s, and got away with it.

“As we saw Doo over the years develop a little bit better breaking ball, he started throwing it a little bit more, but he still has to understand who he is, and that’s when he locates his fastball and it’s up in the zone, he gets out, and he’s a fly ball pitcher, as we saw last night, they’re going to hit fly balls, but when he’s down, that’s when he gets in trouble.

“We’ll continue, he’s going to continue work on it with [Hickey] — find out what he really wants to do, do some other things as far as analytically, see what’s best for him, and then we’ll go from there.”

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

A reporter joked with Martinez that it’s not often you hear other pitchers compared to Doolittle, who’s a fairly unique pitcher (and person, in a positive way).

“It was funny, because when we used to play Oakland, you know, we had Jake [with Tampa Bay], the similarities were the same. Doolittle comes in, he’s going to throw 96-97, fastballs up in the zone, we had Jake, he was going to throw 96-98, fastballs up in the zone. I mean, they both were doing the same thing and they both were very successful. So, we never really wanted them to change. He did have a little bit of a bigger breaking ball, more of a curveball back then, and he only threw it just basically for show, and then he’d go attack with his fastball again.

“Kind of like — I look at [Josh] Hader as — Hader developed more of a good slider over the last few years, but when you get ready to hit Hader, you better look for the fastball.

“You got to be on the fastball.”

So the Nationals and McGee are both hoping he can find something down the stretch and contribute out of the bullpen, while hopefully setting himself up for the future.

“For me it’s just a building block for next year,” McGee said.

“Get good outings and show that I can get guys out and get strikeouts and have my fastball life at the [top of the] zone is huge, so I think in the next two months to do that, and get an opportunity for next year.”