Kyle Finnegan has once again found himself as the Nationals’ de facto closer. With Tanner Rainey and Sean Doolittle rehabbing their respective elbow injuries and bullpen mates Carl Edwards Jr. and Hunter Harvey being used in more of a setup role, the 31-year-old right-hander has been used most often in the ninth inning. Or in whatever high-leverage situation manager Davey Martinez deems as the “save” opportunity.
“Yeah, it's great,” Finnegan said of the confidence he has from Martinez in the closer’s role. “I found myself in that position the last two years. So it's familiar territory. I think getting the last three outs of a game is special and it's awesome. I don't think it's my job to win the game. Our team has already won the game at that point. It's just my job to get those last three out. I don't try to make the moment too big. We've got the game in hand, just go out there and get three outs, and limit damage and secure the win.”
Finnegan pitched to a 3.55 ERA with 11 saves over 68 appearances in 2021 and a 3.51 ERA with another 11 saves last year. Both of his first two appearances of 2023 have come in the ninth inning with differing results.
Facing the bottom of the Braves lineup on Opening Day, he issued two walks and a two-run double as part of a three-run ninth inning that turned a two-run game into a five-run Atlanta lead.
But with the season’s first save opportunity coming in Sunday’s finale, Martinez trusted Finnegan again to retire the heart of Atlanta’s order to seal the first Curly W of the 2023 campaign. While it took him 23 pitches to complete the ninth on Thursday, Finnegan needed only eight efficient pitches Sunday afternoon to get two groundouts, a flyout and the save.
“Just being aggressive in the strike zone,” he said of the adjustment between his first two outings. “The walks killed me in my first outing, and walks are gonna kill you in general in this league. So just an emphasis to be in the strike zone, not trying to be too fine, not give the hitters too much credit and just go after them. And I felt like I was able to do that last night.”
Finnegan, who throws a sinker, a split-finger fastball and a slider, says all of his pitches feel good coming out of spring training, but he’s improved his slider a bit.
“Honestly, I feel good with the way everything's working,” he said. “My slider's got a little more bite to it this year. I've always felt really good with the splitter. And obviously the fastball is something that I like to use a lot. They all feel good right now. I feel like I'll throw any of them in any count and that's a good place to be.”
Of course, the new scheduling format this year has reduced the amount of times teams play their division rivals. But with his first two appearances coming against the Braves, the team he has faced the most since debuting in 2020, Finnegan says he enjoys the chess match against hitters he is used to seeing on a regular basis.
“Oh, yeah. And after four years of this, you feel like we know what each other is trying to do, so it becomes that back-and-forth game of trying to stay one step ahead,” he said. “But you also don't want to overthink it. Do what you're good at and they're trying to do what they're good at. So there is a chess match, but you don't want to get that paralysis by analysis. Just go after him. And if you're gonna lose, lose with your best stuff.”