Blake Treinen, the right-handed prospect who impressed Nationals with his velocity and stuff, was reassigned to minor league camp on Monday morning, ending his surprise bid for the final spot in the bullpen. Although Treinen, 25, won’t break camp with the Nationals, he may have improved his stock among team officials more than any player in spring training, and he could likely help the team at some point this season.
Treinen, one of three prospects acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Michael Morse trade from two winters ago, hasn’t pitched above Class AA Harrisburg, where he finished last season. But his high 90s sinking fastball and his sharp curveball/slider hybrid made him one of the best pitchers in camp this spring. The numbers may not have been all too impressive — five earned runs allowed in 9 2/3 spring innings with nine strikeouts and three walks — but talent evaluators were bullish on Treinen’s stuff, arm and presence.
“He’s just an exceptional young man,” Manager Matt Williams said. “We let him know that he is our next wave. He proved everything he had to prove this spring to us. We’re all certainly pleasantly surprised with his progress and the way he threw the baseball. He was grateful. He was grateful for the opportunity. We just told him we’re all very impressed with the way he went about it.”
The Nationals will build Treinen’s arm strength so he could become a starter at Class AAA Syracuse, then decide if he will start or relieve in the minors. If (or when) Treinen reaches the majors this season, though, he will almost certainly pitch out of the bullpen. Treinen has said he feels comfortable relieving and prefers some parts of it over starting.
“His stuff plays at any point later in the game,” Williams said. “It’s a bowling bowl at 97. We have some depth in the starting roles. He may be able to help us in the bullpen as well.”
With Treinen out of the running, the competition for the final bullpen spot is down to left-handers Michael Gonzalez and Xavier Cedeno, right-handed prospect Aaron Barrett and potentially Tanner Roark, if Taylor Jordan is selected as the team’s fifth starter.
Barrett has not allowed a run all spring, but Williams is still weighing whether or not to name a right-handed pitcher or a lefty as his final reliever. Nine of the Nationals’ first 12 games will come against the Mets and Braves, who both possess lineups by powered by left-handed hitters. If the Nationals add a third left-hander to go with Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler, it would be for the express purpose of matching up with Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy.
“It depends on how we feel we can best construct the lineup and the bullpen moving into opening day,” Williams said. “We know who we’re facing the first 15 games of the season, and it’s all within the decision. Certainly, looking at those teams, the Braves are heavy left-handed. The Mets are heavy left-handed. I think the decision comes to more of a situational-type lefty, potentially, as our third lefty. That’s why those guys are all still here. We’re still contemplating all those potentials.”