The Washington Nationals hopes of using Blake Treinen as closer are over. As he regroups, what happens next and why was he given an impossible task?
Announced as the closer at the end of Spring Training, the heavy-sinkerballer Treinen hoped to mix his 98-mph specialty with hitters either striking out or smashing the ball on the ground. He lasted two weeks.
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Anyone who watched Tuesday’s ninth-inning performance against the Atlanta Braves felt a mix of anger and sympathy. Treinen featured no confidence, nor did he over the weekend with the Philadelphia Phillies. When you have other pitchers warming behind you that is not a good sign. Both games saw that.
A simple look into his eyes tells the story. Treinen literally was the deer caught in the headlights. Closers must be confident in their ability. Jonathan Papelbon was an insufferable teammate, yet his cocky attitude made him successful. He knew he was blowing you away.
Treinen gave you fear, his.
With slow, deliberate deliveries, opposition hitters knew they could wait out mistakes. Here, making him throw strikes. Control has been an issue before, but not like this.
In 6.1 innings, Treinen walked six. Add 10 hits and his WHIP is a horrible 2.526. That is not closer material, it is Syracuse stuff.
Yet, he should never have been placed in a position to fail. Most of the blame belongs to Mike Rizzo. Dusty Baker shares some, and so does Treinen.
When the Nats failed to land a closer this offseason, they held a closed-door audition for the job on the back fields of West Palm Beach. While we marveled over Koda Glover’s innings, Treinen and Shawn Kelley pitched under the watchful eyes either against minor-league batters or in side sessions. They gambled.
Championship teams do not gamble.
When Rizzo could not keep Mark Melancon or finesse Kenley Jansen, the team decided not to go after Greg Holland. The Colorado Rockies did for $7 million and a vesting option. No opt-out and no fuss. By the way, he has eight saves and an ERA of 2.25.
Kelley and Glover will try now to slam the door shut. Kelley has the best resume, but two Tommy John surgeries limit his availability. Glover is raw, not earning the full trust of his coaches.
The Nats are lucky to be above water in the standing. With incredible starting pitching and a prolific offense, they are winning games they give away. You cannot expect both strength to continue like this all year. Slumps happen.
With no one doing anything in the pen who they turn to reach a closer is a valid question. Sending Treinen out with him knowing another pitcher is over his shoulder is inexcusable. Watching him struggle Sunday was hard. Tuesday, there is no excuse. He is the boxer who stumbles off his stool punch drunk.
You hope the damage between the ears is not permanent. Treinen can play a vital role if used right. But, he needs time to sort those issues out. Allowing him to fail again may be his end.