Blake Treinen has done much as of late to solidify not only his spot on the 25-man roster, but in the starting rotation.
In his most recent start against the San Diego Padres and rotation stalwart Andrew Cashner, the right-hander scattered five hits and two earned runs over six innings, keeping the Nationals in a game that was eventually lost 4-3 in 11 innings. While the effort did not earn him an elusive first major league win, it was nonetheless one that speaks well to Treinen’s talent and his ability to quickly adjust to the situations thrown at him, be they starts or relief outings, in a time when the Nats rotation has needed the occasional stopgap due to injuries or ineffectiveness.
For the Kansas native and South Dakota State alumni, the opportunity to contribute significant innings at the major league level was not necessarily a given. Coming to the team as a part of the three-way trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle, the Athletics’ 2011 seventh-round pick was a bit of a throw-in, with former Washington draft pick A.J. Cole returning to the team after a brief stint in the Oakland organization. At the time, Cole was the key of the deal for the Nationals.
Spending the majority of his minor league experience as a much older prospect at Single-A and having a mediocre showing at Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, Treinen’s trajectory to the big leagues has been slowed by the numbers game with respect to the abundance of pitching talent in the Nats system. It has also been due to the lack of consistent secondary pitches to pair with his nasty high-90s sinker, which has averaged a little over 96 miles per hour in 2014.
However, with the big sinker and his versatility, along with the opportunity to contribute presenting itself in D.C., Treinen wet his feet in the bullpen, flashing not only the sinker, but a four-seam fastball, an improved slider and flashes of both a curveball and a changeup. That combination of pitches would be an important key to a transition to the rotation.
With respect to starting, Treinen has taken the bull by the horns once again and has done much in a short amount of time to endear himself to the coaching staff and teammates. Where his relief appearances saw Treinen use all five of his aforementioned pitches, his three starts this year see him sticking with the power sinker -- thrown about 55 percent of the time -- offset by a slider and the four-seamer.
The sinker has been as good as advertised, allowing Treinen to enjoy a 55 percent groundball rate across his 25 1/3 innings pitched in relief and as a starter. While it does exhibit elite velocity, the sinker has yet to reward Treinen with a high strikeout rate, currently sitting at a pedestrian 5.33 K/9 and 4.2 percent swinging strike rate. The slider looks to be Treinen’s out pitch when a strike or a whiff is needed, sitting at an 11.1 percent swinging strike rate.
While the stuff is eye-opening in certain respects, with velocity akin to rotationmate Stephen Strasburg, Treinen so far has taken an approach reminiscent of another member of the staff -- fellow sinker-baller Doug Fister -- pounding the zone with quality strikes low in the zone, generating a lot of ground balls for the infield to convert into outs.
While his heat has led to fewer swings and misses, it has allowed Treinen to be a more than capable, solid back-of-the-rotation arm, whose success during his major league trial by fire has been a welcome surprise in the team’s season that has thus far been marred by injury and uncharacteristic poor performances. With Treinen, the Nationals have made the most of some outings from an under-the-radar pitcher who is reveling in his unheralded talents and opportunities to perform beyond expectations.
Stuart Wallace blogs about the Nationals at District Sports Page. Follow him on Twitter: @TClippardsSpecs. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.