Kintzler arrives, ready to pitch in any role for Nationals

MIAMI - Brandon Kintzler had been through trade deadline day before, last July 31, and he was admittedly a nervous wreck waiting to find out if the Twins had dealt him. So when this July 31 came around and he knew the team had a day off in San Diego, he decided to get away and go on a safari zoo tour with his wife.

So there was Kintzler, feeding apples to a rhinoceros at 1:01 p.m. Pacific time, when his phone rang. He looked down and recognized it was a Minnesota area code.

"So I figured this was either good or bad," he said. "But here we are. We're in first place."

Kintzler Throws Twins Sidebar.jpgYes, indeed. Kintzler was retelling this story two days after the fact, now sitting in the dugout at Marlins Park and wearing No. 21 for the Nationals. An All-Star with the sub-.500 Twins at the start of the week, he's now one of three key late-inning additions to the bullpen of a club running away with a division title.

"It's an honor for someone to even want to trade for you," he said. "A couple years ago, I couldn't even get a job in the minor leagues. So all of a sudden someone wants to trade for you; I don't take it for granted. I love the guys in Minnesota. ... They gave me every opportunity to succeed. And they gave me a steppingstone to be in first place, in a pennant race, which is what we all play for. I'm not getting any younger. I just turned 33 yesterday. So I'm definitely excited for it."

Kintzler, who was acquired right at the deadline for Single-A left-hander Tyler Watson, had 28 saves in 32 chances for the Twins, but his role in Washington won't be nearly as defined. Manager Dusty Baker told him today to be ready to pitch in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, joining fellow newcomers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in forming a late-inning trio versatile enough to hold multiple roles.

Kintzler takes particular pride in his ability to do that. It comes naturally for a guy who was pitching in independent ball from 2007-09 and then slowly worked his way up as a middle reliever and setup man for the Brewers, then bounced back from a bad knee injury to become the Twins closer the last two seasons.

"I understand there's no defined roles, which is fine with me," he said. "I'm sure it'll all play out in the end. We just have to come in and do our jobs. It seems like a great group of guys; everyone just wants to win, and I'm on board with that. So I'm just here to do whatever is asked."

Kintzler developed into an elite reliever once he overcame a torn tendon in his knee that he said plagued him in both 2013 and 2014. He missed most of the 2015 season after having surgery, but has become a better pitcher since, learning how to rely on ground balls and quick outs instead of swings and misses.

"I think it's very important for anyone," he said. "One, you can get quick outs, and that makes me available every day. And that's what I like to be. I learned in the National League, you want to be available every day for your manager. And the fact I got to be a closer, come in and throw 10-12 pitches, maybe less, I can be available for the manager the next day. Strikeouts will lead to a lot of pitches, which will lead to walks. I understand everyone loves them, and they're sexy. Maybe every once in a while, I'll get one. But it's something I'm not chasing for. I like to get in and out, and see you tomorrow."

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