At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds now, 25-year-old right-hander Blake Treinen looks like a big power pitcher, so it is hard to imagine a time not too long ago when couldn’t even hit 90 miles per hour. But as late his junior year of college, only four years ago, Treinen’s fastball sat between 84 and 86 mph. In high school, it sat between 78 and 82 mph. During his freshman season at Baker University, a small NAIA school in Kansas, he was topping out at 83 mph.
It wasn’t until his senior year, after a summer ball stint in Wyoming in which a coach offered some sound advice on pitching philosophy and training, that Treinen surpassed 90 mph. And now, Treinen, a late bloomer, is considered one of the best hard-throwers in the Nationals minor leagues. At Class AA Harrisburg, his fastball was regularly around 93 mph but he flashed 96, 97 and 98 mph often.
“The way you hear it, it doesn’t really add up,” Treinen said. “It has to be from God.”
Treinen is one of the 22 non-roster invitees in Nationals camp this spring and, after two and half weeks in camp, his potential has caught the eye of new Manager Matt Williams. Asked what young arms stood out to him in spring training so far, Williams singled out Sammy Solis (who he knows through his son and managed during the Arizona Fall League), Taylor Jordan (whose major league starts last summer Williams can easily watch on video) and then Treinen.
“It’s electric,” Williams said of Treinen’s stuff. “He’s working on his secondary pitches, of course. Especially his breaking ball he’s working on. As a pitcher he’s very young. He’s still feeling his way through that. But it’s electric stuff. Out of the hands really nice.”
Although Baseball America doesn’t rank Treinen among the Nationals’ top 10 prospects and MLB.com rates him as the 17th best in the system, the Nationals are internally high on his potential. Treinen was part of the Nationals’ return from Oakland, along with A.J. Cole and Ian Krol, in the Michael Morse trade. In 118 2/3 innings at Harrisburg last season, his first taste of pitching above the Class A level, Treinen posted a 3.64 ERA. He also posted a 6.5 K/9 rate and 2.5 BB/9 rate, evidence that his command still has room for improvement. His second-best pitch is his slider and his change-up “is still a work in progress”.
“I think it was good for me to see that my stuff continues to improve at the level that people put me in,” Treinen said. “With Paul Menhart, changed my whole aspect on pitching. He’s an unbelievable pitching coach. With Oakland, I felt like the transition was pitching down and away. But here, it was hard in, which could set up anything. I’m really happy with what they’ve done with my career, throwing program wise, pitching mentality, everything.”
Treinen said he likes throwing inside to right-handers but it wasn’t so easy to do against left-handers. He saw improvement with that last year, and sees the benefits of keeping hitters off balance by challenging the inner portion of the plate. And, being in major league camp, learning from established players’ routines and watching the way veterans throw the baseball, has opened Treinen’s eyes.
“You see with (Jordan) Zimmermann, (Stephen) Strasburg, (Ross) Detwiler, (Doug) Fister and (Gio) Gonzalez, you see those guys out there throwing and they’re down in the zone and moving it in and out and changing speeds,” he said. “You just got to be consistent with your pitches and throw them when you want to and need to. If I go out and improve those things and be more consistent with my game, then whatever happens happens. I can’t control when I move (in the minors).”
FROM THE POST
Taylor Jordan, who arrived in the majors ahead of schedule, considers himself lucky be in camp and competing for the fifth starter’s spot.
After disappointing 2013 season, the Nationals are ready to learn under new Manager Matt Williams, writes Thomas Boswell.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY
None, since games begin Friday.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY