Brian Goodwin looked comfortable in the clubhouse at Nationals Park, which now contains a whole section of lockers dedicated to young players who shared the Syracuse locker room at one point or another this year. He was drafted 28 picks after Anthony Rendon in the 2011 draft, 34th overall, so the two go back to those days and beyond. He played with Joe Ross, Pedro Severino and others in spring training then during this season, so there was no getting-to-know-you period there.
The 25-year-old has been on the Washington Nationals’ radar for years now, a familiar face the organization was hoping would turn a corner sooner or later. He did this season, with a .284 average and a much better record against left-handed pitching than he had before. So when Ryan Zimmerman hit the disabled list Saturday, the Nationals called up Goodwin — who has been on the 40-man roster since December 2014 — to replace him.
“Goody earned it,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “We believe in also calling up guys who are on the roster, but you also want to call up guys who have earned it. He’s having a good year. He’s having the best year since he’s been with us. I urged him in spring training to hopefully have this type of year, because you can go from a prospect to suspect in no-time. I told him, man you’re at a turning point in your career.”
Goodwin struggled through the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He battled a shoulder injury and through the mental test of a demotion: After spending all of the 2014 season in Class AAA Syracuse, he spent 2015 in Class AA Harrisburg.
“Lot of ups, lot of downs. Lot of time to figure some stuff out about myself, as a person and as a player,” Goodwin said. “But I think it was all necessary. Eventually it got me here, so it was good.”
Goodwin, a lefty, struggled against left-handed pitching throughout his minor league career. This season, he is hitting .316 against left-handers — better than his average against right-handers. He had not slugged more than .340 since 2013. This season, he is slugging .434. The difference?
“Just being patient. Just staying patient,” Goodwin said. “Not letting the light at the end of the tunnel kind of deter me from my path.”
Goodwin said he “just kind of blacked out” when he heard the news late Friday night, around 10:30 p.m. He called his mother, and had to put her on speakerphone because the reaction was so deafening in his ear. His family will drive up from North Carolina for Saturday’s game.
“Everything I’ve ever dreamed of, everything I’ve ever worked for,” Goodwin said. “just to hear that news, it was just unreal.”
Goodwin was not the most obvious choice to bring up when Zimmerman went down. Michael A. Taylor and Matt den Dekker have both been in the majors several times before, and have fit into the Nationals’ bench and rotation in helpful ways at times this season. But Baker said Taylor was sent down to play, to work on things with more consistent at-bats than he would have gotten in the big leagues. If he were to come back, he would lose that consistent playing time again.
So the Nationals went with Goodwin, who played nine games with them in spring training because Baker wanted him to get the experience.
“I could see why the organization put him on the roster because he has tremendous talent,” Baker said. “He just had to figure it out. I kept him around probably longer than most managers would have just to give him some big league knowledge and some big league feel and to motivate him to try to get back here. I gave him some pinch-hits some times that I probably shouldn’t. But sometimes you do things for the player and their future.”
With Goodwin around, the Nationals’ bench Saturday night consists of him, left-handed hitting Clint Robinson, right-handed Pedro Severino, switch-hitting Wilmer Difo and right-handed Chris Heisey.