Washington Nationals: Matt Grace stepping up in the bullpen

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Matt Grace #33 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on May 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Matt Grace #33 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on May 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images) /
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One of the pitchers that has helped the Washington Nationals bullpen pitch better as of late is Matt Grace

After a rough beginning to the season, the Washington Nationals bullpen has improved as the season has gone along. Without any proven closer to begin the year, different pitchers have had to step up. One of those pitchers who have been a big surprise this year is left-hander Matt Grace.

Grace made his major league debut in 2015, but was used mainly as a long reliever. In 26 games, before pitching late Friday, he had a ERA of 4.24 and had only 14 strikeouts in 17 innings. While the strikeout numbers are still low this season, he has been more effective.

Over his last eight appearances, the 28-year-old has given up just one home run (dating back to June 29) and he hasn’t given up a hit in eight of his nine appearances. While the Washington Nationals do have a lot of left-handed options in the bullpen, Grace stepped up when Sammy Solis was hurt (now in Triple-A) and hasn’t looked back.

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Since Grace isn’t going to strike many hitters out, the key for him is to induce as much as weak contact as possible. In 52 career outings, he has only given up one home run (Johan Camargo back on July 9). His fastball velocity averages out at 90.6 miles-per-hour (according to Fangraphs) and he mixes in his sinker, slider, and changeup well.

The key for Grace in his outings is going to be to get the groundball outs. This year, albeit in a small sample size, teams are hitting groundballs against him over 62% of the time (Fangraphs). That number is three percent higher than it was during his rookie season.

When you watch Grace pitch, he will mainly use his sinker over his other pitches. That pitch has been tough for hitters to make hard contact on when put into play. This season, teams have only one extra-base hit against that pitch this year (courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

Now, if the Washington Nationals do decide to trade for another reliever, Grace would likely be the odd man out because he has options. However, even if that is the case, he is proving that he could be a reliable option in September once the rosters expand.

Since the Nats acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, Dusty Baker can use those two pitchers for the closer spot and allow the other pitchers to come in during lower leverage situations. With less pressure, that should allow some of the relievers to thrive.

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Baker has used Grace to get a save this season and he has done a good job of saving the Nats on some occasions. He has gone from starting the season at Triple-A to becoming a trustworthy option for the Nats at the big league level.

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