Saenz's stuff, makeup have him on fast track

February 27th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Southpaw Dustin Saenz came into the Nationals' Minor League camp eager to learn from his fellow pitchers, many of whom have played in the big leagues or have already attained success in the Minors. To the 2021 MLB Draft fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M, being able to bounce ideas off them and pick their brains for advice is “pretty amazing.”

“A bunch of those guys, I kind of look up to and just try to follow in their footsteps because they’re on the right track right now,” Saenz said on Sunday.

Saenz is on the right track, too.

Although he has appeared in only six games (including two starts) since being drafted by Washington, he has made a fast impression. Saenz, ranked as the Nationals’ No. 30 prospect by MLB Pipeline, went 1-0 with a 4.73 ERA across 13 1/3 innings last season on the Low-A and Rookie levels combined.

“Great fastball, good curveball, good changeup,” said pitching coordinator Sam Narron. “He’s got a chance to move -- and move quickly.”

Saenz worked this winter to establish the inside part of the plate with both his slider -- noted by MLB Pipeline for its effectiveness against right- and left-handed batters as well as its vertical and horizontal break -- and fastball, which has sink and reaches 95 mph. His offseason objective was to deliver his pitches with conviction.

“I see a very determined and serious person on the mound,” Narron said. “He’s one of those guys that when you’re watching him pitch, you kind of just stand back and let him go. … He goes about his work very seriously, and it’s intense.”

For Saenz, it is important to stay in the moment while he’s pitching. He wears a bracelet with the word “Breathe” on it and tries to block outside noise before and during his outings. Saenz -- who is listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds – also doesn’t get caught up in size matchups with his opponents.

“I think my mentality kind of helps me and gets me out of situations that are pretty tough,” Saenz said. “I’m not really looking at the whole height difference and all that. I’m just going out there and doing what I’m able to do best and what they picked me to do.”

For all that Saenz wants to learn from others as he moves up in pro ball, he has a strong understanding of who he is as a pitcher and how to become an even better one this season.

“He knows how his stuff plays and uses it well with what he’s been given,” Narron said. “And he’s been given a lot and worked hard at it.”