Posted on April 19, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
It took the Washington Nationals all spring to decide on a closer, and now, a little more than two weeks into the regular season they are already considering a change. Blake Treinen began the season as the team’s closer after winning an intriguing competition during spring training. However, he and the entire bullpen have struggled early in the season, forcing the Nationals to consider changing the roles of some of their relievers.
In eight appearances this season, Treinen has posted a 7.11 ERA. Opponents are hitting .357 against him, and he has nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He has just one blown save in four opportunities, but there have been a number of close calls.
During Tuesday’s win against the Braves, Treinen entered the 9th inning with a three-run lead, but proceeded to give up two hits and two walks while recording just one out. Shawn Kelley replaced him and recorded the final two outs with the bases loaded, as the Nationals escaped with the win.
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“We got to do something to shore up our closer situation because this ain’t working,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after Tuesday’s game.
Treinen was an important part of Washington’s bullpen last season in a setup role, posting a career-low 2.28 ERA. The Nationals trusted him in important situations with runners on base throughout the 2016 season, which made team officials think he was ready to handle the responsibilities of a closer this season after the team failed to land one of the top free agent closers available. However, things have obviously not gone according to plan early in the season.
“I think it’s more concentration and trying too hard more than anything,” Baker told reporters on Sunday after Treinen failed to complete a full inning against the Phillies in another game Treinen nearly gave away. “I think he has confidence, it’s just when you throw that sinker, his ball runs in and out of the zone, which is his strong suit and I have been talking to him about throwing some four-seamers that he can control. He’s still learning. I’m hoping he’s a quick learner.”
After Tuesday’s poor outing from Treinen, Baker left things open-ended with regard to whether the team will keep him in the closer’s role.
“We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and see,” Baker said. “I don’t know, we’ve just got to talk about it.”
It’s important to keep in mind that Washington’s struggles extend beyond Treinen. The Nationals currently have the second highest bullpen ERA in the National League. Joe Blanton, Sammy Solis, and Enny Romero all have an ERA over 8. Even before the Nationals get to Treinen in the 9th, their middle relievers are not getting the job done.
If the Nationals were to make a change, they would likely go with either Kelley or Koda Glover, although neither is an ideal choice. Despite getting the save on Tuesday, Kelley has a 6.00 ERA this season. The Nationals are also uncomfortable using him too frequently, as he’s had Tommy John surgery twice, which could make it difficult for him to take on the job of closer. Glover, meanwhile, has been solid but by no means dominant this season, posting a 3.18 ERA over 5.2 innings. He’s been a closer in the minors but started the season with limited experience pitching above A-ball, much less closing out games in the big leagues.
Despite Treinen’s struggles in the closer’s role, it remains to be seen if the Nationals will make a change at this point in the season. There’s no guarantee that any of Washington’s internal candidates will fair any better than Treinen.
Unless the Nationals want to re-engage with the White Sox in trade talks involving David Robertson, they may be best off sticking with Treinen in the closer’s role, at least until someone else in their bullpen emerges as a competent replacement. On the other hand, the Nationals have yet to pay too big of a price for Treinen’s struggles, but they are definitley playing with fire.