Baldonado 'grateful' after successful debut

September 3rd, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The news caught off guard. The southpaw had been staying optimistic that he would get the opportunity he had been working toward for 11 years, but actually hearing those words was another kind of experience.

“I was speechless,” Baldonado, 28, said in Spanish. “For the first 10 seconds, I didn’t believe it because I was totally frozen.”

The Nationals selected Baldonado’s contract on Sept. 1 after an impressive season with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. A 3-1 record and a 3.31 ERA over 28 relief appearances earned him a call to the bigs for a long-awaited Major League debut on a team that is in need of bullpen depth.

“He’s got three good pitches,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We’d watched him for a while now -- he had trouble throwing strikes at first, and then he started finding the strike zone with his fastball, his changeup, his curveball. … We thought it would be a good time to see him. When you get a left-hander that can throw a decent curveball and a 96 mph fastball, we definitely want to take a look at him.”

Baldonado’s journey to the Majors began in 2010, when signed with the Mets organization. He reached Triple-A with New York, before signing a Minor League contract with the Cubs in ‘17. Baldonado played for the High Point Rockers of the Atlantic League in ‘19, while also embarking on an international career path. He signed a Minor League deal with Washington last season.

“They gave me the opportunity and that will always be in my heart,” Baldonado said of the Nats. “I am grateful for that.”

This long road led him to Thursday, when the Nationals made the call to the ‘pen for him to pitch in the seventh inning in a 7-6 loss to the Phillies. He fanned Matt Vierling in the first at-bat, allowed a single to Odúbel Herrera, got Jean Segura to line out and fanned Bryce Harper swinging on a 96.4 mph sinker.

"When he got [Harper] 0-2, he was trying to throw a slider to get him to chase, but then he came with the fastball to strike him out above the zone," said Nationals bench coach Tim Bogar, who was the acting manager in that game. "He had it inside of him to go ahead and give him his best stuff, and then got it by him. It was nice to see."

The excitement of the outing kept Baldonado up a little Thursday night. The following day, he was back at Nationals Park, this time with his debut on his resume. Baldonado flashed a big smile as he recounted the experience, then he headed into the clubhouse to prepare for the game.

As a Major League reliever.