By Brian Tinsman

WASHINGTON — Through the first two months of the MLB season, Washington Nationals skipper Dusty Baker has progressed from optimism in the closer situation to realism, and is teetering on the edge of pessimism.

All-Star closer Mark Melancon left last offseason for a contract with the San Francisco Giants that was too rich for the Nats’ liking. The Nats entered Spring Training with a wait-and-see approach and could have ridden that into the regular season.

Instead, the team talked itself into tabbing Blake Treinen the closer.

“He may give up a hit or walk, but he’s always one pitch away from getting two outs with one pitch,” Baker reasoned with the media at the time. “He was really good at getting lefties out the second half of last season, so perhaps he’s found that formula. He’s a strong young man and very durable.”

What he was not, however, is effective. He has appeared in 17 games this season, finishing six and saving just three. Along the way, he has compiled an 8.10 ERA, which is actually down from the 9.52 ERA on April 19th, when Baker described his work thusly:

“We got to do something to shore up our closer situation, because this ain’t working,” Baker told the media. “Walks and guys that are not supposed to be hitting him that hard are hitting him. Like in Philadelphia. … [Cameron] Rupp hit him off the wall. I don’t know. We just got to talk about it.”

Baker did discuss it internally and has turned to the likes of Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley when healthy, with similarly disappointing results. Kelley now boasts a career-high 7.15 ERA, when healthy, and Glover blew a save as recently as Sunday.

Any team in the Nationals’ position would prefer to keep trying internal candidates, but those have been hard to find.

“We have to look from within right now,” he said. “Because people know when you’re in need. And when they know you’re in need, they have to rob you — of your [farm] system.

“We’ve got a couple guys throwing 98 [mph] that still get hit sometimes. There have been a bunch of guys that got the job done throwing a whole lot less than 98, like I said, it’s about change of speeds, it’s about location. It’s mostly location. If you locate well, and you have a good enough breaking ball to keep them off your fastball, then that’s what it’s all about.”

“We’ve just to got to go back to the drawing board, and try to figure it out,” Baker added.

Could the proverbial drawing board include finding another Melancon before the deadline? If so, there are few leads in May.

“You’re always pushing for a trade, but ain’t nobody trading right now,” said Baker. “Sometimes you have no choice but to have patience. Nobody is going to drop you down a knockdown closer out of the sky until there’s some teams out of it. We have to look from within right now.”

 

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