The right-handed reliever from Moline, Ill., fired two shutout innings, allowing no runs and no hits with one strikeout, finishing off a 6-2 loss to the Orioles.
Bacus did his job. He struck out Austin Hays on a swinging strike three with an 87 mph slider. The Orioles were unable to hit the ball out of the infield in his two frames. Bacus mixed a slider and sinker for 19 pitches, 14 for strikes.
On Saturday night, Bacus allowed a hit, but struck out two in a scoreless seventh inning in the Nats’ 7-3 setback. His final strikeout that night was a called third strike to get Rio Ruiz.
His final out during his debut on Friday was recorded on a grounder to first baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera. Bacus caught the relay at first and touched the bag to end the half inning.
The play was also a meaningful milestone for Bacus. It marked the beginning of a new journey after nine seasons in the minor leagues.
“I really made it. I did!” Bacus said of that feeling on a Zoom video call before Saturday’s game. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God! I really did it! It didn’t really hit me. It still hasn’t. Getting that last out at first when Cabby threw me the ball, I looked in the glove and I was like, ‘I think you did, man. Look at that!’ It’s kind of cool to be able to say I’m a big leaguer now.”
Bacus was added to the roster early Friday after spending the last month and a half at the club’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va. After he received news of the promotion, Bacus said he started to get a little jittery boarding the team bus to Baltimore.
“I think I was more nervous on the drive up,” Bacus said. “I think the reason is we put so much pressure on a situation like that, and I think for me, it took me a long time to realize that it doesn’t matter where we are, what level, it’s still 60 feet, six inches.
“For me, it helped me to kind of calm those nerves. Thinking about that on the drive up. Once I got here, that helped. I think it kind of helped not having 40,000 fans screaming at you.”
Bacus has been in the Nats minor league system since 2013. He was acquired on August 23, 2013, in a trade with the A’s for Kurt Suzuki. Ironically, they are now teammates on the Nats.
Last season, Bacus started strong for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. Prior to the All-Star break, Bacus racked up a 4-3 record with a 3.05 ERA. He allowed only 15 earned runs in 44 1/3 innings. And this was in the high-altitude, hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
“For me, it was realizing where I was at,” Bacus said of his 2019 season. “It’s the PCL, guys want to lift the ball. I’m one of those pitchers that’s not going to allow that to happen. If I do, then it’s one of those days that it’s not for me. I am groundball guy, so my biggest thing going into PCL was I got to stay lower than the belt. If I don’t, it’s going to be a long year - if I’m still around. The biggest thing for me was being able to attack hitters in the right places, executing my pitches. The results were in my favor. I’m not sure if it was luck or anything else. But it was a pretty good year.”
Bacus worked hard on his craft in the offseason and then again excelled in spring training work before the coronavirus shut down baseball mid-March. In five appearances, he put together an impressive 1.93 ERA over 4 2/3 innings.
“We talked a lot about him,” Nats manager Davey Martinez said. “I liked him in spring training. The biggest thing for him is he needs to know who he is and what kind of pitcher he is. I think he has figured that out. He did well (Friday). He’s a guy that has been around a little bit, but still it’s still his first stint in the big leagues. He told me he was nervous on the bus. I said ‘Normal. You are going to get butterflies. But once you get out there, just compete.’ He did that and he was good after the game.”
Bacus has been working since his time in the Arizona Fall League in 2018 to not overthrow, trust his stuff and keep the ball down in the zone. He says these are still focus points for him on the mound.
“I’m definitely a guy that looks like I’m trying to throw it 100 mph and it doesn’t come out that way,” Bacus said. “It’s just one of those things that you got to buy in to who you are. It took me a long time, about seven years, to actually realize who I was as a pitcher, kind of control everything that I can control.”
Bacus pitched in 225 minor league games - 609 2/3 innings, dating to 2012 - when he played Rookie-league ball for the Arizona Athletics. But Bacus says it’s too early to reflect on this big step up right now. He’s got to get ready for his next appearance.
“I think if you look at my hotel room, it shows,” Bacus said. “I haven’t really unpacked anything. It hasn’t hit me at all. The last 24 hours have been pretty crazy.
“Nine years in the minors. I’m one of those guys with that long story in the minor leagues of grinding and grinding. I was very fortunate to spend the majority of it with one team. For me, I feel like the Nats have really taken care of me and given me plenty of opportunities to showcase myself, and I look at the Nats as a family, so it’s pretty cool to do it with this team.”
Maybe he can hang up a few of his shirts in the closet now. After this road trip, of course.