Nationals tab Treinen as closer over Kelley, Glover

FORT MYERS, Fla. - For more than six weeks, they considered their options, going back and forth in their minds, weighing the positives and the negatives for each of the candidates they had to open the season as their closer.

And when the time finally came to make the call this morning, the Nationals made it with conviction. Shawn Kelley has experience. Koda Glover has the stuff. But Blake Treinen has both, not to mention a track record of good health.

Thus, if Dusty Baker is fortunate enough to hold a lead entering the ninth inning Monday afternoon at Nationals Park, when the bullpen gate swings open the man who trots in to "The Outsiders" by Eric Church will be Treinen, the soft-spoken right-hander with one of the best sinkers in the sport.

blake-treinen-dodgers.jpg"To be in the position Dusty has put me in, I feel honored," Treinen said. "I'm excited to have that opportunity. I'm looking forward to progressing and taking it this season and doing the best I can for my teammates, and hopefully locking down games for us."

The announcement, which came only an hour before the Nationals' Grapefruit League finale against the Red Sox, may have caught some by surprise. It was easy to view this as more of a two-man competition between Kelley, the veteran with a strong track record as a setup man, and Glover, the rookie with the stuff and makeup that screams future closer.

But there were red flags associated with both of those guys. Kelley has had two Tommy John surgeries, and the Nationals were very careful with his workload last season, avoiding usage on back-to-back days as much as possible.

"We didn't want to do anything," Baker said, "because we felt like we handled him perfectly last year."

Glover, meanwhile, may tantalize everyone with his repertoire and demeanor, but the 2015 draft pick only has 19 games of major league experience and only 78 pitching appearances as a professional at any level. He also ended last season with a left hip injury that has club officials at least somewhat still concerned.

"We discussed Koda," Baker said. "But here's a guy that was in A-ball last year. He's come from a long ways in a short period of time. And secondly, he had that hip problem last year, so we have to guard against that as well. We've taken all these factors into effect."

Given the fact he still has minor league options and the Nationals have an excess of relievers in the running for limited roster spots, there was some question whether Glover would actually open the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

Baker, though, quashed any thought of that today. Asked if Glover is still making the club, Baker responded with an emphatic: "Oh, hell yeah."

The Nationals have always liked Treinen as a late-inning option, and the 28-year-old really came into his own last season posting a 2.28 ERA in 73 games. Many of those, however, came in earlier innings, with Treinen asked to pitch his way out of jams; he led all major league relievers with 17 double plays induced.

That ability to get out of difficult situations made Treinen an alluring choice to again serve as something of a modern-day fireman who can be summoned whenever he is most needed.

"That's what the dilemma was," Baker said, comparing this to a decision he had to make in his first year managing the Giants: using Bill Swift as a starter or reliever, because he was qualified for both roles.

"This is similar to that, whether Blake would be one of my best setup men or whether it would best for us for him to be closer."

The Nationals decided to use Treinen in the ninth inning, hoping his sinker (which averaged 95.5 mph last year) can make him as effective as other recent frontline closers with similar repertoires. That group includes Zach Britton and Jim Johnson, who both closed for the Orioles and teamed with now-Nationals catcher Matt Wieters.

"I know the sinker is going to play well for me," Treinen said. "I just try to be the best I can, and the best pitcher I can be with that pitch. Seeing guys that throw sinkers also have success, it's just reassuring. But if they weren't successful, I would still go out and try to be the one that was successful."

It remains to be seen how Treinen handles the added pressure of closing in the big leagues, but his career development has impressed more than a few people. Acquired from the Athletics along with A.J. Cole and Ian Krol in the 2013 trade that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners, Treinen debuted with the Nationals as an emergency starter in 2014, got his feet wet in the bullpen in 2015, then developed into one of Baker's most trusted weapons in 2016.

Now he has been given the ultimate vote of confidence.

"I've been through a lot," Treinen said. "I've failed on the biggest stage. I've had success, not on the biggest stage, but in some big-time situations. I know that I can do it. Coming into this year, there was never a question in my head of whether I was capable of doing it. It was just a matter of what was best for the team. That's what it was: What dynamic was going to be best for us to have success? I feel honored that they chose me for closer. I don't want to ruin that opportunity."

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