Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman works on first base drills with manager Matt Williams during spring training. After the 2014 season, the Nationals declined the option for first baseman Adam LaRoche, which moved Zimmerman to the position full time. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Long before he was in the Washington Nationals’ bullpen, Jerry Blevins was a regular student at the University of Dayton.

He was there on an academic scholarship, not an athletic one, because he was recruited out of Arcadia High in northwest Ohio to play baseball only by a local Division III school. He starred as a starting pitcher at his small high school but didn’t take part in the showcases or tournaments that would have gained him exposure.

But in the fall of his freshman year at Dayton, he and a close friend saw a flier for baseball tryouts. Both went, but only Blevins made the team. More than a dozen years later, the 31-year-old is entering his second season with the Nationals, having made a career as a crafty left-handed reliever. The story of how he got here highlights an underlying truth about Blevins: He is as much a renaissance man as he is a baseball player.

“He’s just a really smart person and values education and knowledge above being an athlete or ballplayer,” said Craig Stammen, a fellow Nationals reliever and a former Dayton teammate. “Being a ballplayer is just what he’s good at. There’s not a subject he doesn’t know even a little bit about. He can talk pitching, too. That’s probably why he’s such a good pitcher because he knows how to think the game through.”

Blevins and Matt Thornton likely will make up the left-handed contingent of the Nationals’ opening day bullpen. Blevins endured an up-and-down first season in Washington. He posted a 4.87 ERA, his highest total in a full major league season in his career. Belying his career numbers, Blevins was hit well by right-handers, but he held left-handed batters to a measly .160 average. He finished the regular season on a strong note and was the Nationals’ best reliever in the playoffs, stranding all six runners he inherited.

After a strong finish in 2014, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is expecting big things as he starts the season leaner than last year and moves to right field. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

“It was good to show not just the organization but the fans what type of pitcher I really am,” Blevins said.

But the easygoing Blevins is among the most interesting people in the Nationals’ clubhouse not just because of his pitching style. He is an avid reader, music fan, film watcher, food critic and traveler. He shares his thoughts on a popular Twitter account, @JerryBlevins_13, that was named among the 100 most interesting by Sports Illustrated this winter.

“I’ve always been super curious about many different things my whole life,” he said. “I guess it stems from wanting to experience everything life has to offer.”

Blevins’s intellectual curiosity developed as a kid. He played the drums in marching band in high school and still uses an electronic set in the basement at his Ohio home. He even considered attending art school instead of college because he loved drawing, painting and making sculptures.

He became an avid film watcher then, too. His mother always made time on Sundays to take him and his brother to the movies. As a minor leaguer with a lot of free time on the road, Blevins always found the local video store.

“I remember Clinton, Iowa,” said Blevins, whose favorite movie is “The Shawshank Redemption” and who loves the documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” “They had a riverboat casino and a Blockbuster down the street. You could go and get five movies for 25 bucks. I’d get the most obscure movies and watch them.”

Blevins also reads a lot, from the news to books. His favorite genre is science fiction and fantasy. He is reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. He goes to sleep each night reading on his Kindle.

Post Sports Live discusses the major story lines from Nationals spring training, including who will be the Opening Day starter and how Ryan Zimmerman will transition to playing first base. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Whatever city he visits, Blevins looks through Zagat.com and newspaper reviews and consults friends and teammates. His favorite restaurant in the country is 112 Eatery in Minneapolis. He loves the dim sum at Ping Pong in Chinatown in Washington. He marvels at what he sees on “Iron Chef,” a reality cooking competition show.

“I’m just fascinated by people that do what they do at the top level,” he said. “They take a focus of directing movies, acting, cooking, writing, whoever devotes themselves to be the best at that.”

Blevins’s curiosity drives him on the field, too. Briefly and early in his career, his fastball reached the mid- to high-90s. Over the past few seasons, it has averaged 89 to 90 mph. He learned quickly to use his smarts to get batters out instead of relying on power.

“A lot of guys, especially bullpen guys, are like that: They want to get as high energy and high octane as they can and go max effort the whole time,” he said. “For me, I look at the situation and try to analyze the hitter and their tendencies and read the situation and take advantage of that. I approach the game a lot different than a lot of guys do, especially bullpen guys.”

At one point in college, Blevins even considered attending law school. He loves debating, but he chose baseball when he was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 17th round of the 2004 draft. When Blevins was scheduled to appear at his arbitration hearing against the Nationals in mid-February, he took a particular interest as it was his chance to be the lawyer he once wanted to be.

Blevins asked his agent, Bobby Barad, and agency, Excel Sports, to present his arbitration case to him. He wanted to hear their case, dissect their argument and help refine it. He did his own research, scouring Baseball-Reference.com for comparable players and salaries. Blevins’s side won the arbitration hearing and a $2.4 million salary for the 2015 season, $200,000 more than the Nationals’ offer.

“It was a fun, fascinating process,” Blevins said. “There are guys in this game that run on ego or ability to think they’re the best or fluff themselves up. They want to hear other people say that. And that’s not what happens in [arbitration]. They do the opposite. And I understand what type of player I am. I’m not Mariano Rivera. Tyler Clippard’s numbers are amazing. I don’t compare myself to that. I don’t have the delusions that I’ve had that kind of career. But I also know where I fit in. I’m here for a reason.”