Kelvin Herrera has been among the best closers in the American League this season, one of the best relievers, period, in the majors for several seasons. Sean Doolittle has been among the best closers in the National League this season, one of the best relievers, period, in the majors for several seasons.
How, then, will this all shake out? And is there any concern egos will get in the way?
If you want to take the current Nationals relievers at their word, the answer is an emphatic no. Frankly, they were elated by tonight’s news the club had acquired Herrera from the Royals for three minor leaguers.
“You get a guy who’s pitched in every high-leverage role from the seventh inning on,” Doolittle said. “He’s won a World Series. He’s battle-tested. We’re planning on playing some really meaningful games down the stretch and making a run into the playoffs. We’re gonna need some help. I think it’s awesome.”
If Doolittle had any concern he was about to lose his job, he was quickly eased by general manager Mike Rizzo, who approached the left-hander in the weight room early during tonight’s second game against the Yankees and assured him he will remain closer.
“He grabbed me and just wanted to say: ‘Hey, you might see something later, after the game on your phone, and I didn’t want you to think anything different. I wanted you to hear it from me. We have a lot of confidence in you. We just think this is going to give us some depth, give us some options. We had an opportunity to make a move to better our bullpen, and we took it,’ ” Doolittle said.
“It was awesome that there was that transparency and that communication, and obviously it’s awesome that they’re looking to help us out.”
Manager Davey Martinez left no doubt himself about which reliever he’ll give the ball to in the ninth inning.
“For me, we have an All-Star closer right now,” Martinez said. “(Herrera) will be asked to do some different things, so he’ll fit right in.”
Madson and left-hander Tim Collins both pitched with Herrera in Kansas City in recent seasons and both offered up glowing praise of the 28-year-old, who managed to get better with experience and this season has struck out 22 batters while walking only two.
“He’s always been a high-velocity guy, but he’s learned how to pitch over the last few years,” Collins said. “He’s added a few pitches to his repertoire, and he’s been able to not just out-stuff guys. He outpitches guys, too.”
Madson, who called Herrera a “bulldog,” believes he and others in the current bullpen will benefit from Herrera’s addition, allowing for a lighter workload after some extensive work through the season’s first two-plus months.
That, ultimately, matters more to this group than who pitches what inning.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to have a problem with it,” Madson said. “Let the old horse rest a little bit. He can let me pitch every once in a while, and I’ll be fine. All hands on deck, of course, when playoff time comes around. So I don’t see anybody else losing any sleep about it.”
Herrera becomes the sixth reliever with closing experience the Nationals have acquired in the last three calendar years, joining Jonathan Papelbon, Mark Melancon, Doolittle, Madson and Kintzler. The biggest difference this time? The trade came in mid-June instead of mid- or late July.
“For the front office to send a message to us this far ahead of the deadline, to try to get us some help in the bullpen, I think it’s one of those situations where in April and May the bullpen as a whole had a really heavy workload,” Doolittle said. “You saw Madson and Kintzler land on the DL because of that. It’s almost their way of saying: ‘Here’s some help. Here’s some reinforcements.’ I think it’s one of those situations where you can’t have too many options down there.”