“We saw him in the winter league, his velocity was there,” said Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, who signed Valverde out of the Dominican Republic when he was working with the Diamondbacks. “…I know he’s a guy who will fit into any clubhouse he goes and pitches with. It’s a minor league deal, and we’ll see where it takes us. If we can catch lightning in a bottle with him, it’ll be a good story.”
Valverde, 37, opted out of his minor league deal with the Padres late in spring training. He allowed four runs in 8 2/3 spring innings but struck out eight and walked only one, and his fastball velocity was encouraging. The former three-time all-star reliever, however, hasn’t enjoyed much major league success in years.
He posted a 5.66 ERA and saved two games in 20 2/3 innings with the Mets last season. In 2013, he had a 5.59 ERA in 19 1/3 innings with the Tigers. His most recent good season was in 2012, when he had a 3.78 ERA and 35 saves in 69 innings with Detroit. From 2007 to 2011, with the Diamondbacks, Astros and Tigers, Valverde had a combined 2.74 ERA and 191 saves. He was an all-star in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Valverde is known for his colorful antics on the mound and for his “Papa Grande” nickname — he was listed at 6-feet-4, 265 pounds last season.
The Nationals hope Valverde recaptures some of his old form. Their bullpen’s 3.39 ERA was 13th in the majors entering Wednesday’s games. But the Nats are dealing with injuries (Craig Stammen and Casey Janssen, who may return soon) and inexperience (Blake Treinen, Matt Grace and other rookies who had short stints). Over the past two weeks, four Nationals pitchers made their major league debuts.
The Nationals have already used 11 relievers and the first month of the season isn’t done. They used 13 all of last season. The Nationals are 7-6 this season when ahead or tied after six innings.
And like a handful of veterans who have come through Washington, Valverde has a connection to Rizzo. Valverde was signed by the Diamondbacks out of his native Dominican Republic in 1997 and came up through the minor leagues there while Rizzo was with Arizona.
A major league scout who saw the reliever in the Dominican Republic clocked him between 91 and 95 mph with a decent splitter. After a stint in Viera and perhaps with Class AAA Syracuse, Valverde could be an option for the major league bullpen.