Right-hander Kyle Finnegan has been in the minors since 2013, so making the opening day roster in 2020 with the Nationals was a big step. Since arriving as a sixth-round pick by the Athletics, Finnegan has played for seven different teams and logged time at every level. He was a starter from 2013 to 2015, making it to Double-A in 2014 and Triple-A in 2017. The Nats signed him as a free agent in December 2019. In late March, the Nats optioned him to Double-A Harrisburg.
But then the coronavirus shutdown continued well into June. After summer training at Nats Park, Finnegan was told he had made the 30-man roster to begin the 2020 season.
"It's incredible," Finnegan said in a Zoom video call Saturday during pregame. "It's such a crazy year. I think it opened the door to some crazy things happening, and I happened to benefit from that. To hear I made the team from Davey, it meant a lot to me and my journey. I'm so happy to be here and I can't wait to get this thing started."
Finnegan, 28, said Martinez let him know informally that he made the opening day roster.
"It was pretty casual," Finnegan said. "I was walking through the clubhouse and I think Davey saw me walk past his office, called me over, and he said 'I just want to let you know you made the team. You earned it. I'm proud of you. Get ready to go.'
"From that point, I don't think it completely hit me in that moment. I was kind of relieved at first and then started to call my friends and family, wife and daughter. That's when the reality sets in, and just an amazing moment."
When Finnegan told his daughter, she wasn't bouncing off the walls at the news. The right-hander and his wife think they know the reason why.
"It was really funny," Finnegan said. "I FaceTimed with her and she's 8 going on 9 and I told her and she was like, 'Wow! Congratulations!'. And I was talking with my wife and we think that she probably thought that I've been in the big leagues for years now. She knows that dad is a professional baseball player, but I don't think she understands the levels and all that. She told me congratulations and she was super happy, but I don't know if it will truly click for her, either, until she's able to come to a game or maybe see dad pitch on TV. We are all super excited for that moment."
Nationals manager Davey Martinez loves the intensity and velocity Finnegan brings to the hill. Now Finnegan is concentrating on refining one of his other pitches, a lethal off-speed offering he uses to tempt the hitter after he's seen the fastball. Pitching coach Paul Menhart gave Finnegan advice on how to alter his mechanics a bit on the splitter.
"We've been working a lot on my splitter," Finnegan said. "I've always thrown a splitter and it's been one of my go to off-speed pitches and we were just working on getting it a little bit more down in the zone. It was kind of floating on me a little bit in my previous outings. So we really went to work on starting it in a better spot and allowing it to start out as a strike and fall out of the zone, trying to get swings and misses. I think we are making some great strides with it. I feel 100 percent confident in throwing it."
As we have heard with other pitchers who have worked with Menhart, he doesn't micromanage his pitchers. He offers them some solutions to their mechanics or tweaks for the starting point of a pitch, but it's up to the pitcher to go out and do it. Finnegan likes that type of coaching.
"I love working with Paul," Finnegan said. "He's been great to me since day one. He's always there for extra work. He lets you do your thing and he will tell you what he is seeing. You get to implement that any way you want. That's the type of relationship you want with a pitching coach, for sure."
During the pandemic shutdown, Finnegan got to work building strength and continuing baseball activities while waiting for the moment when the games actually began.
"I was back home in Houston at my house," Finnegan said. "I have a full minor league grinder setup. I have a bullpen in my backyard that I built myself. I have a garage gym, just stuff that I have collected over the years. One of my buddies I played with (from) the Athletics, he would come over. We'd throw in the street. We'd throw bullpens in my backyard. Get a workout in in the garage. Do some sprinting in the street. When we wanted to throw to a catcher we'd go up the high school, just getting after it."
Finnegan hit his stride that last season in the A's system, garnering organizational accolades from MiLB.com. He was a three-time mid-season All-Star, once at high Single-A, and twice at the Double-A level. So was he frustrated at pitching well in the minors but never getting a shot with Oakland in the big leagues?
"Every player wants to get that opportunity, especially with the team you are drafted by," Finnegan said. "From the day you are drafted, you want to make it to the big leagues with that team. Unfortunately, I didn't get that opportunity, but I think that journey, obviously, led me to this position. I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think all that adversity just helped me along the way. I met so many great people in the Oakland A's organization. I have no hard feelings whatsoever. It's part of the game. I'm not the first guy it's ever happened to. I won't be the last."
It's only game two of the season, so Finnegan is still waiting to make his major league debut. But it's going to happen pretty soon. The Nats tonight start a string of nine games in a row with no off-days. What will Finnegan's emotions be like when he steps out of the bullpen and onto the field for the first time as a big leaguer?
"Normally, probably adrenaline would be flying all over the place," Finnegan said. "But it's definitely a little more calm of an environment without all the fans. I can't really answer that for you. I can guarantee I'm going to be very excited. I'm excited to get out there. As far as the atmosphere, I've played in games without fans before, but I can guarantee you that I'm going to be ready to go and I'm very excited for that first outing."