With the postseason now just two weeks away, the conversation continues as to how many left-handed relievers the Nationals will carry on the playoff roster.
I spoke to Solís this week about the competition for the left-handed spots on the postseason roster. He said he is taking these last few weeks “very, very seriously.”
Same goes for Grace. He said understands the numbers involved, but that hasn’t changed how he approaches his job from day to day with the regular season dwindling down to just a few games.
“I think you always have to prove yourself, no matter the situation, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done,” Grace said. “The past is pretty irrelevant moving forward. Would be nice to get on a roll here, help the team out, continue winning games, get some momentum going and ride it into the playoffs.”
Grace has made a name for himself this year with his consistency. But the season didn’t start out that way as he went back and forth between D.C. and Triple-A Syracuse as the club dealt with southpaw injuries and some ineffectiveness in the bullpen. After arriving in late April, Grace had 5.00 ERA months in May and June. But in July he came into his own, dropping the ERA to 2.51, recording two saves and striking out 13 in 11 games over 14 1/3 innings.
“Yeah, early on it was more of just do what I can in the moment and take it more a day at a time,” Grace noted. “Once I established a little bit it was easier to get on a roll and get a feel for things of when I was going to pitch and stuff like that.
“After going through being up and down, up and down, and then kind of being there for that stretch, it just helps you get in a rhythm, gain some momentum, know what you have to do on a daily basis to get ready, and how (manager Dusty Baker) is going to use you, what certain situations like that. Get a better feel for being in a rhythm.”
Grace and Solís are obviously both left-handers, and both arrived in the 2010 draft: Solís in the second round and Grace in the eighth round. Are they battling for one spot on the playoff roster? Grace believes they each bring something different to the table.
“We went up through the minor leagues together too,” Grace said. “It’s been seven years we’ve been together on and off. We hang out quite a bit and (are) good friends. He’s a little bit of a different pitcher than I am.
“We talk about lefties, but he kind of attacks lefties a little differently than I do. He kind of works little bit up in the zone with his four-seam, has more of a curveball. He uses his changeup a lot to lefties too, so in that sense he’s a little bit different. It’s been cool to kind of go up (to the majors) with him for a while now.”
Grace’s usage changed for one game on Aug. 18 when he made a spot start in San Diego against the Padres. He did a very good job, going 4 1/3 innings, allowing no runs on two hits with one walk and one strikeout in a no-decision. The Nats won the game, 7-1.
“That was kind of an interesting, unique situation,” Grace recalled. “I really just tried to keep it simple in that outing. I think Dusty’s using me in situations where it’s been extended innings and I’m not just strictly facing lefties. He’s kind of been using me in more stretched-out situations to begin with. So that start was more ‘Hey, I guess he’s gone two-plus innings before, maybe we could stretch him out here a little bit.’ It was good to go as long as I could in that game.”
So, does the fact that he could play the role of long man in the postseason make him a top candidate for one of the left-hander spots in the bullpen? Righties are hitting .287 against him, lefties .241.
“Whatever situation they see fit and however they see fit, that’s their job, not mine,” Grace said. “I feel confident I can get hitters out on both sides. So, if they want to use me in that role, I’m all for it.”
Then there is the question of wearing down as the finish line approaches. The Nats may have actually benefitted in this regard with everyday players such as Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner, because they could be a bit fresher come Oct. 6 due to time off in recovery from injury. Grace says that, as a relief pitcher, he feels strong and believes that will help him as the playoffs approach.
“Me, personally, I feel good right now,” Grace said. “I can’t say that I’m waning off or really tired at this point. I think October is a different situation. But for right now, I feel great. I think it’s just a matter of staying on top of your routine. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the position (players), guys that play every day. I haven’t been really throwing that much as of late.
“I also think that that’s helped, but for starting pitchers and some of the guys that have been throwing in the bullpen on a real consistent basis all the way through, I can imagine that being really taxing. Hopefully, everyone will regroup and get ready for that time of year.”
That time of year is pretty much right now.
The Nats have some important decisions to make on the left side of the bullpen, because they are all good relievers, and each has a strength that separates one from the other. The number of southpaws they carry could come down to which team they face in each round.