Sometime during their coursework at the University of Dayton nearly ten years ago, Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen took a communications class together. The assignment was to interview each other, one acting as a prospective manager and the other as the general manager looking to fill a managerial position. The Dayton pitchers and teammates put on baseball caps to look the part for their mock interview.
“To think that now we’re going to be together in the big leagues is a neat little thing,” Stammen said at NatsFest on Saturday. Neither ever thought they would be reunited in the majors league after sharing the playing field at Dayton. “It’s such a crazy thought going back,” Stammen added.
Stammen, 29, was drafted by the Nationals in the 12th round in 2005, and Blevins the year before by the Chicago Cubs in the 17th round. Their winding paths brought them to the Nationals bullpen, Blevins adding perhaps the most needed arm this offseason.
The Nationals’ bullpen struggled to find a balance last year without reliable left-handed relief options, let alone one. Zach Duke struggled and was released; Ian Krol and Fernando Abad both started off well before hitting rough patches. This winter, the Nationals traded a fringe prospect for two years of control of Blevins. The left-handed 30-year-old has held left-handed batters to a .224 average in his career, is capable of pitching a full inning and has six years of major league experience in Oakland.
“It’ll be helpful,” said right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard, normally a set-up man who was often called upon to face left-handers because of his success against them. “Last year, it got a little weird at times knowing exactly who was going to come in for lefties. Maybe the workload was a little bit increased for some guys because of that. So now, more structure. As long as we know what to expect down there, we’ll be more prepared to do our job and that’s all you can ask for.”
Blevins’ splits were reversed last season with the Athletics; he held right-handers to a .190 average but left-handers hit .253 off him. As Oakland restocked its bullpen, it considered Blevins expendable. Historically, however, Blevins has had success against both; right-handers have hit .240 against him in his career. The Nationals envision the lanky 6-foot-6 pitcher as the all-around left-handed reliever and Xavier Cedeno as the left-handed specialist. Blevins is ready for either.
“I obviously have no preference,” he said. “I’ll come in and face a batter. The competitive side of me wants to face as many people as I can. I pride myself in being able to get lefties and righties out but I understand that there’s a need for lefty on lefty matchups. Whatever is needed I’ll do.”
Blevins is keenly aware of expectations, given the plethora of strong left-handed hitters in the National League East: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, to name a few. Blevins hasn’t watched film on them yet, but has already studied opponents’ rosters and numbers.
“I’ll do my homework and be ready to do,” he said. “They don’t know me either, so it’ll be a bit of surprise on both ends. … It’s a matter of outwit, outsmart. I’m not a guy who’s going to be throw 98 right by you. I’m going to put my pitches in spots and let you get yourself out and outduel you.”
Blevins met reporters on Saturday at NatsFest and was enlightening and entertaining. He laughed about being happy to come to a newer stadium like Nationals Park from O.co. Coliseum, which has had well-publicized sewage problems. He explained his connection to his jersey number, the unlucky No. 13. (When he was younger, he played with older kids on his brother’s team, and since he picked his jersey last, it was the only number not in the 60s and 70s he could find. He has stuck with it since.)
“I think it’s a lefty thing,” Blevins said. “We’re a little bit different than most people.”
The Ohio native even recounted how his mother — a big fan of the Nationals even before the trade simply because of the patriotic red, white and blue colors — bought the family Nationals t-shirts for Christmas. “She’s excited to see me in a uniform like this,” he said. Blevins even laughed about the makeshift jersey and hat he made soon after the trade and posted on Twitter. He showed off his crisp white and authentic No. 13 Nationals jersey at NatsFest.
“It’s a little bit better than the one I made myself,” he said. “I love the jersey.”
Aside from his uniform, Blevins also hopes he will fit right in with the team and his fellow relievers. One of his goals, he said, was to be a positive personality on the team. He already has one old friend on the team.
“He’ll fit right in,” Stammen said. “He’s an awesome guy. Actually, really intellectual, really forward thinker. I think him and Drew (Storen) will get along really well. He and I obviously get along really well from our time at Dayton.”