Jeffress brings 'spunk' to Nationals' bullpen

Minor League deal for right-hander is pending a physical

February 22nd, 2021

The back end of the Nationals' bullpen got even deeper. On Monday, the team agreed to a Minor League contract with veteran right-hander . The deal is pending a physical and intake test.

“I was ecstatic when [general manager Mike Rizzo] said they got the deal done,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Looking forward to getting him in camp.”

Jeffress, 33, will earn $1.25 million with another potential $1.25 million in performance bonuses if he makes the club, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. The Nationals have one open spot on their 40-man roster, and it is possible they could carry eight relievers.

“I’ve always loved him, even though he was on the other side of the field,” Martinez said. “When he came in the game, he brought that spunk. I remember watching him against Juan Soto one day. Him and Juan were battling, and he didn’t give in. I like that about him. You know what you’re going to get from Jeremy, and I love that. He brings that attitude to the Nationals now. I think it’s going to be awesome.”

The addition of Jeffress would be the latest step in the Nationals' effort to bolster their bullpen. In January, they signed lefty Brad Hand, who led all of baseball with 16 saves in 2020, to a one-year deal. Right-handers Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey are all returning from last season. Having this many options can help the Nats attain their goal of limiting innings to keep arms fresh late in the season.

“It’s a matter of getting the guys here and having that depth,” Martinez said. “That’s really what we try to accomplish. I think we did a good job, Riz did a great job of doing that this year. We have tons of guys. If something does happen, whether it’s early in the spring, late in the spring, whenever -- we have guys we feel like can fill the void.”

Jeffress is coming off a 2020 season in which he was a finalist for the National League Reliever of the Year Award. In 22 games for the Cubs, he went 4-1 with eight saves and a 1.54 ERA across 23 1/3 innings. He ranked in the 91st percentile among qualified pitchers with a 3.5 percent barrel-per-batted ball rate, which measures the percentage of balls in play against him that were barreled for the most dangerous contact in the air that typically go for extra-base hits and home runs.

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Jeffress’ pitch makeup varied last season from the year before. His most-thrown pitch was his splitter (32.1 percent), after it was his least-utilized pitch (9.1 percent) in 2019. He held opponents to a .152 batting average with it. Jeffress’ fastball velocity averaged 93.3 mph in '20 -- the lowest of his career -- and he threw it for 11.5 percent of his pitches, down from 28.5 percent in ’19. Despite the dip in speed, he limited opponents to a .182 batting average with it.

Over his 11-year career with Milwaukee, Kansas City, Toronto, Texas and Chicago, Jeffress has a cumulative record of 32-12, with 52 saves and a 3.08 ERA. He was also named an All-Star in 2018, when the Midsummer Classic was held at Nationals Park.

“If everything goes well [with the physical], I’m excited that we’ll have him,” Martinez said.