Nationals manager Dusty Baker said today that righty Blake Treinen will take the team’s closer role to open the season, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post was among those to report on Twitter. He won a camp battle with young righty Koda Glover, who’ll instead slide into a setup role for the time being.
There was quite a bit of intrigue all winter long surrounding the ninth inning for the Nats. The team pushed to re-sign Mark Melancon and made a run at Kenley Jansen in free agency, but came up just short on both players. That led to speculation that the organization might pursue a trade for a veteran such as David Robertson, but nothing ended up coming to fruition.
Treinen, 28, was dominant this spring and impressed last year with a 2.28 ERA over 67 innings. He did continue to exhibit his long-standing control problems in 2016, with 4.2 BB/9, and recorded only an 8.5 K/9 strikeout rate that falls in range of league average. But Treinen is also among the game’s best groundball pitchers; aided by a power sinker that sits in the 95 to 96 mph range, he induced worm burners on 65.9% of the balls put in play against him.
Whether that will translate into success in the ninth remains to be seen, but the opportunity to rack up saves for an anticipated contender portends good things for Treinen’s future earning capacity. He is on track to qualify for arbitration for the first time next winter.
The Nats do have other internal options if Treinen falters, including Glover, Shawn Kelley, and perhaps even pitchers such as Sammy Solis and Joe Blanton. (Though Kelley has seemed a natural fit for the role, the team has long insisted it prefers to handle him differently given his injury history; Baker affirmed that again today, as Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com tweets.) But it wouldn’t be all that surprising if D.C. ends up looking into the trade market again this summer after dealing for Melancon and Jonathan Papelbon at successive deadlines.