ATLANTA — A few weeks ago, the Nationals decided to name Blake Treinen their closer over Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover because he checked off more boxes than the two other choices. He had the nasty stuff, he boasted positive experience in hairy situations, he was capable of a heavy workload, and they convinced themselves his laid-back demeanor wouldn’t pose a problem. Treinen’s portfolio, team officials decided, made him the most suitable of the options they had after whiffing on acquiring an established closer during the offseason.
But Treinen has not looked like that pitcher through the first two-plus weeks of the season, and his tenure as Nationals closer may be over after 13 games following another dreadful outing in Washington’s 3-1 win over the Braves on Tuesday. After the game, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker didn’t talk around the possibility of replacing Treinen. He was blunt.
“We got to do something to shore up our closer situation,” Baker said, “because this ain’t working.”
Treinen entered the game Tuesday in the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead and yielded a first-pitch single to Freddie Freeman. Two batters later, Brandon Phillips singled. Treinen then walked Adonis Garcia and Kurt Suzuki to allow a run before Baker pulled him.
“I don’t really know what to attest for it,” the 28-year-old Treinen said. “I felt good in warm-ups, felt like the eight pitches I threw to Wieters before the inning started were right where I wanted them. Honestly, I felt like it was going to be a really good inning for me.”
Instead, Treinen nearly squandered Max Scherzer’s seven scoreless innings and exited Washington’s first game at SunTrust Park with a 7.11 ERA in 6 1/3 innings across eight appearances. He’s allowed 10 hits and walked six batters to seven strikeouts.
“Walks and guys that are not supposed to be hitting him that hard are hitting him,” Baker said when asked what concerned him most about Treinen’s performance. “Like in Philadelphia. … [Cameron] Rupp hit him off the wall. I don’t know. We just got to talk about it.”
While the Nationals could seek an external answer at closer, Kelley and Glover are the likeliest in-house options. The 24-year-old Glover is a closer by trade, but hasn’t done it at the major league level and began last season in Class A. Kelley, 32, dabbled as the Nationals’ closer for stretches last season and has 11 career saves. He earned one Tuesday when he replaced Treinen and got a flyout and strikeout to end the game. The organization also has 42-year-old Joe Nathan at Class AAA Syracuse. Nathan ranks second among active pitchers with 377 saves.
If Treinen is replaced, he could return to the fireman role he excelled at last season, when he used to his 98-mph sinker to post the second highest groundball rate and the fourth-highest strand rate among National League relievers. But he hasn’t yet looked like that pitcher in 2017.
“I just need to be sharper, and it’s kind of inexcusable,” Treinen said. “Puts our bullpen in a bad position, puts our team in a bad position when they grind for eight innings and put up three runs and our pitching puts up zeros. So I should be better.”