FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Blake Treinen will begin the season as the closer for the Washington Nationals, even though he has only one big league save.
After Washington went a winter without landing a ninth-inning man and a spring training trying to figure out who would earn the role, manager Dusty Baker announced Thursday the 28-year-old Treinen won the job.
Baker, general manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Mike Maddux waited until the team’s final day in Florida — the Nationals were playing an exhibition game at the Boston Red Sox — to settle on Treinen, who found out Thursday morning that he would be the reigning NL East champions’ closer.
Washington will travel north for two more exhibition games against Boston — one in the nation’s capital on Friday, the other in Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday — before opening the regular season Monday at home against the Miami Marlins.
After the Nationals lost closer Mark Melancon to the San Francisco Giants in free agency, Treinen competed with two other internal candidates, Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover.
“I think a lot of us came into spring willing to put our heads down and compete and be the best that we can, knowing that we’re all going to have valuable innings,” Treinen said. “To be in the position Dusty has put me in, I feel honored. I’m excited to have that opportunity. I’m looking forward to progressing and taking it this season and doing the best I can for my teammates and hopefully locking down games for us.”
The right-hander’s powerful sinker has become his key to success after being converted from a starter to a reliever. He finished last season, his third in the majors, with a 2.28 ERA and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
“Blake has that turbo sinker,” Baker said. “He may give up a hit or a walk, but he’s always one pitch away from getting two outs with one pitch. He was really good at getting lefties out the second half last season. So perhaps he’s found that formula. He’s a strong young man and very durable. We think that (catcher Matt) Wieters and them can help him along. ‘Cause Wieters had (Jim) Johnson and (Zach) Britton, which are both sinkerball guys.”
Last season, Treinen was typically used when another pitcher had entered a jam.
His sinker often results in ground balls, which translate into double plays. Baker preferred to deploy Treinen when there was trouble, not in a set inning.
That was one of the reasons Washington considered other options such as Glover, who is entering just his second full professional season, or Kelley, who has closed in the past. Both have injury concerns. Glover tore the labrum in his hip at the end of last season and spent the offseason rehabilitating it. Kelley has twice had Tommy John surgery.
Being the closer will be new for Treinen, but he vowed Thursday to remain the same quiet guy who enters to “The Outsiders” by Eric Church and not turn his unfamiliar role into an event.
Baker pointed out that several well-known closers — from John Smoltz to Jonathan Papelbon, whose tenure in Washington was a flop — began as starters before being converted to relievers, then eventually turning into closers.
“There’s going to be some stumbles,” Baker said. “I don’t want him to think … ‘You’re going to have to stumble quite a few times before we’re going to make a change.’ … But you can’t just have one stumble and get somebody else. How do you develop that?”
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