WASHINGTON — Brandon Kintzler had 28 saves with the Minnesota Twins before coming to Washington at the 2017 MLB trade deadline. Going into free agency this offseason, it would look at lot better to have 30 saves, even if he was moving into a set-up role with the Nationals.
So Dusty Baker tried to get him some extra saves. It turns out, he just didn’t tell Kintzler in advance and it ended up costing Kintzler and the team.
The first time it happened was in Houston on August 24. By this point, Kintzler was accustomed to the seventh or eighth inning role, while Sean Doolittle was the team’s closer. Just not that day.
Stephen Strasburg had one of his typical quality starts (six innings, zero runs) and gave way to Oliver Perez in the seventh. With two outs, the bullpen phone rang and Kintzler began his mental and physical process of preparing for the eighth inning.
But that wasn’t the call.
“They just switched Doolittle to the eighth and me to the ninth and we didn’t even know until two outs in the seventh inning that we were doing that,” Kintzler told Grant and Danny on 106.7 The Fan on Friday. “It just screwed things up a little.”
Doolittle, who had to rush his process to prepare for the eighth inning, uncharacteristically allowed two hits and a run. How uncharacteristic? It was his first earned run in nearly one month. Kintzler, who had too much time to prepare for his role, allowed three hits and two runs. Instead of picking up his 29th save, he blew it and gave way to Matt Albers and Sammy Solis to finish the game in extra innings.
The Nats won the game, but not in a way that felt good.
“I don’t want to throw Dusty [Baker] under the bus,” Kintzler said. “He wanted to get my to 30 saves but he didn’t let us know ahead of time. He was trying and I appreciate it, but it is what it is.
“When the communication gets a little lacking, we don’t know what we’re doing, that’s when you’ll see–everybody will be like, ‘Oh, what happened to the bullpen?’ But that’s just how it goes. It gets messed up a little bit.”
Baker was beloved by some players who appreciated the way that he handled a lineup, but the criticisms of his bullpen management are nothing new. Kintzler is one of few players who might admit it publicly, and who actually may have appreciated Baker’s departure before re-signing with the team this offseason.
“No one knows–‘OK, do you have the seventh inning or do I have the eighth? What’s going to happen today?’ That gets kind of confusing,” he said, more generally. “It messes up your routine a little bit. We’re so routine-oriented down there, to where when they ran out 7-8-9, the last two months, we knew exactly what we were going to do. When you know you can prepare for that inning, I think that’s why we were so dominant.
“When things get a little murky when you say, ‘Do I start moving around in the sixth? Do I warm up in the sixth?’ Communication is key for the bullpen. Just let us know what we’re doing, I think we can do it.”
With the hot stove market still unfolding, Paulsen asked Kintzler what it would mean for him if the team decided to pursue another late-inning arm, following the team’s trend of adding to areas of strength.
“The more the merrier,” Kintzler responded. “I mean, I think the more guys you’re throwing in the mix with late innings, it kind of starts confusing situations.
“As long as we’ve got our roles defined, that’s all we need to know.”