As part of what is quickly becoming a midsummer showcase, the Washington Nationals called up another highly regarded young pitcher Wednesday afternoon, right-handed reliever Koda Glover. While starters Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez began this season with established reputations, Glover was known better internally than externally, a 2015 eighth-round pick who rose faster than almost any other first-rounder in Nationals history. Glover began this season at Class A Potomac.
“If you were to ask me if I would be where I am right now, I’d say no,” Glover said. “But luckily I’ve been blessed with opportunities that they’ve given me, all the Nats and coordinators. It’s been a fantastic journey and I couldn’t be more happy about it.”
The Nationals sent Lopez, who made his major league debut with a rough 4 2/3 inning start Tuesday, back to Class AAA Syracuse to make room for Glover. They now have nine relievers on their active roster and four starters. Lopez, Giolito and Joe Ross, another young right-hander, are all on turn for the same spot in the rotation, which means one of the three will likely start Sunday.
Lopez must remain in the minor leagues for at least 10 days, unless an injury requires the Nationals to make a move. Manager Dusty Baker said Ross will make a rehab start in the minors before he comes off the disabled list, where he landed July 3 with right shoulder inflammation. Ross threw a simulated game Tuesday and would therefore be on schedule to start Sunday. That leaves Giolito, though neither Baker nor Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo would say so.
Glover provides the Nationals with an eighth reliever, one bred to be a closer since his days in junior college, then at Oklahoma State. Rizzo had not seen Glover with his own eyes when the Nationals drafted him in 2015 and called his rapid rise to the majors a “really good scouting story for us, and player development.”
The Nationals barely had time to develop Glover as he advanced quickly from draftee to Low A Hagerstown last season, then from Potomac to Syracuse this year. He possesses a high-90s fastball, a change-up, a curveball and a fearless reliever’s mentality that often comes up in conversation with members of the Nationals organization long before his stuff does. Baker heard about both, in particular, that attitude.
“I told him to keep that attitude,” Baker said. “Because one thing we need is attitude.”
Asked to describe it, Glover said different people describe him differently: Some say “bulldog mentality.” Some say “things that I can’t say to you.”
“For the most part just keeping it on the field and stuff like that and just keeping it professional,” Glover said. “I think that’s gotten me to where I am.”
Like so many pitchers the Nationals have drafted over the years, Glover has had Tommy John surgery. Like so many pitchers the Nationals have drafted over the years, they felt he fell to them a bit in that eighth round last year. Unlike most pitchers the Nationals draft, Glover is a career reliever, drafted as a reliever with the intention of keeping him in that role. One of the more memorable players in that category? Right-hander Drew Storen, who was also in the majors a year after being drafted, the last reliever members of the Nationals staff could remember racing to the big leagues this quickly. He is the first Nationals draft pick to make the majors from the last four draft classes. Lucas Giolito is still the only member of the 2012 class to debut.
Glover was 3-0 with six saves and a 2.18 ERA combined at three minor league levels this season, with 52 strikeouts and 14 walks in 45 1/3 innings. He is averaging 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings since turning pro last season. He got the call that he would be hitting his fourth team in four months from Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner Tuesday night around 11 p.m.
“I was pretty ecstatic. It’s every kid’s dream. When you get the call at 11 p.m., you’re about to go to sleep and you get that call, it’s fantastic,” Glover said. “I barely got a wink. I’m running on fumes right now, but it’s all good.”
Glover is of Cherokee descent. His first name means different things in different Native American languages, but in his, it means “Bear.” The Nationals assigned Glover No. 32, memorably the number the first full-time closer in Nationals history, Chad Cordero, used to wear. With Jonathan Papelbon around, the closer’s role is not exactly available with the Nationals right now. But Glover has late-inning pedigree, though Baker said he is not sure exactly where he will find a role for him yet.”
“I was taught with the Dodgers, if you have the luxury to bring a young starter in long relief. That’s probably the easiest role in the bullpen, as long as you don’t come in throwing gasoline on the fire already. We had a young Steve Howe that was a rookie out of [Class AA] with the Dodgers that came right in and was our closer,” Baker said. “It kind of depends on the personality. You can earn your way to things, to different positions.”
Because Glover is their eighth reliever, and because the Nationals will need a fifth starter Sunday, his stay could be brief. Sammy Solis will be eligible to come off the disabled list this weekend.
“I foresee him being a piece for us,” Rizzo said. “When you’re in a rotation with five starters and you have seven relievers, you’re gonna go with the best seven guys.”