LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Family members had clued Jerry Blevins in to the fact that his name was being mentioned in trade rumors at the Winter Meetings over the past couple of days. But the left-handed reliever was still surprised when an A’s official phoned him Wednesday afternoon to tell him he’d been traded to the Nationals in exchange for minor league outfielder Billy Burns.
“I got a call from someone in the A’s organization letting me know I’d been traded,” Blevins said by telephone a short time ago. “My initial reaction was shock because I really wasn’t expecting something. Then it was sadness to be leaving a place where I have some history in Oakland. But the next thing was excitement to come to the Nationals organization.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo checked another item off his dwindling offseason shopping list by getting Blevins, 30, who is 13-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.213 WHIP in seven seasons with the A’s. In 2013, Blevins went 5-0 with a 3.15 ERA, working 67 innings over 60 appearances out of the bullpen.
The Nationals, who went into last season with starter-turned-reliever Zach Duke as the lone lefty in the ‘pen, didn’t want to repeat that mistake. They had let southpaws Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny walk as free agents and banked on the fact that righties Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus could do a credible job of getting both right- and left-handed hitters out, as their previous statistics indicated.
Clippard did fine, Mattheus struggled through injury and inconsistency, and former manager Davey Johnson was handcuffed early on because he didn’t have confidence in Duke to get out tough left-handed hitters. Duke was released, eventually creating an opening for guys like Ian Krol, Fernando Abad and Xavier Cedeno. Of that group, only Cedeno remains on the 40-man roster.
Blevins held right-handers to a .190 average in 2013, while lefties batted .253 against him, a curious reverse split he said was rooted in a stretch from June 22-July 7 when he struggled to get outs, allowing seven runs on seven hits over 2 2/3 innings.
“Sometimes, it happens,” Blevins said.
Rizzo envisions Blevins as a reliever who can fill multiple roles - a lefty specialist capable of neutralizing the tough left-handed hitters that populate the National League East, a durable reliever who can also face right-handed hitters and prevent manager Matt Williams from using multiple bullpen arms in a single inning, and a guy who can pitch more than an inning when called upon.
“I’ve done it all in my career in Oakland,” said Blevins, who was originally drafted by the Cubs in the 17th round of the 2004 draft before being traded to the A’s in July 2006 in a deal for catcher Fred Kendall. “I’ve been a lefty specialist, I’ve set up and I’ve pitched multiple innings. But I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do.”
While Blevins has been a member of the A’s for his entire major league career, he has some pre-existing relationships with a couple of his new teammates in the Nats clubhouse. He pitched with right-hander Craig Stammen at the University of Dayton, and played with lefty Gio Gonzalez from 2008-11.
It won’t be easy being the new guy in a veteran ‘pen, but Blevins hopes Gonzalez and Stammen can start giving his new teammates the skinny on their old friend.
“I think them being there will make the transition a little more familiar and somewhat easier,” Blevins said. “It’s nice to have someone (for other current Nationals) to talk to who have some history with me. The other guys can go to them and ask them what kind of guy I am and they’ll tell them.”
Update: If first impressions count, Blevins has a pretty good sense of humor. Check out this photo of a hastily constructed Nationals uniform he donned for a new Twitter avatar, replete with the best curly Ws he could find on short notice. You can follow him @JerryBlevins_13.