The Nationals have signed reliever Junior Fernández to a minor league deal, as announced by their Triple-A affiliate. He’ll join their top farm team in Rochester.
Fernández had spent the 2023 campaign in the Blue Jays’ system. Toronto claimed the hard-throwing righty off waivers over the winter before successfully passing him through waivers in January. The 26-year-old played the year with their top affiliate in Buffalo, posting a 5.69 ERA in 42 games before being released last week.
As has been the case throughout his career, inconsistent strike-throwing was an issue for Fernández with the Bisons. He walked 11.3% of opposing hitters while striking batters out at a below-average 19.9% clip. He kept the ball on the ground at a quality 51.6% rate but saw nearly a quarter of the fly balls he did allow clear the fence.
Fernández’s arsenal is headlined by an upper-90s sinker. The pitch averaged 98.7 MPH during an MLB stint between the Cardinals and Pirates a season ago. It’s not conducive to missing as many bats as the raw velocity might suggest, but it has enabled him to run a quality 49.4% grounder percentage over 54 career MLB innings. He’s pitched in parts of four big league seasons overall, mostly with St. Louis, working to a 5.17 ERA. He owns a 4.70 mark through four years at the Triple-A level.
The Nationals will give him a change of scenery look for the stretch run. Fernández would return to the open market at the start of the offseason if Washington doesn’t call him up before year’s end. They could keep him around beyond this season if they add him to the 40-man roster, though doing so would require them to keep him in the MLB bullpen since he’s out of minor league options.