MIAMI -- The tenor surrounding the Nationals' bullpen is much different following Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
After months of bullpen woes and closer changes to begin the season, the Nats continued their bullpen overhaul by trading for right-hander Brandon Kintzler from the Twins. He becomes the third reliever Washington has acquired this month, as it sent left-hander Tyler Watson, who was its No.17 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com, and international bonus money to Minnesota.
Kintzler joins left-hander Sean Doolittle and right-hander Ryan Madson -- both of whom were acquired from Oakland earlier this month -- as a trio of relievers with experience pitching in high-leverage situations late in games and locking down saves in the ninth inning.
The Nationals did not name anyone the outright closer, and Doolittle has primarily handled the ninth inning since coming to Washington. However, the Nationals will try to manage his and Madson's usage, limiting their number of consecutive days because of their injury history. So even if he is not named the primary closer and settles into a role behind Doolittle, Kintzler seems almost certain to still receive some opportunities to close out games.
With a commanding lead in the division, the Nationals will take the next two months to determine who exactly slots into which roles before they head to the postseason.
"We really like the look of our bullpen right now," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We've got guys who have good splits. It's a good, balanced bullpen. We've got lefties who can get out lefties and righties. We've got righties who can get out righties and lefties. I think it's a very versatile bullpen, guys that can be used in roles that can get important outs at the back end of the game."
The deal came together minutes before the 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, and Rizzo acknowledged they cut it extremely close, as the Nationals balanced a few different options with focus on strengthening their bullpen. They eventually settled on Kintzler, who turns 33 on Tuesday, and word of the deal did not spread until minutes after the Deadline. Kintzler told MLB Network Radio he learned of the trade while feeding a rhino on a safari in San Diego.
Kintzler is in the midst of the best season of his eight-year career as he sets to enter free agency this winter. Kintzler made the All-Star team for the first time and owns a 2.78 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. He converted 28 of his 32 saves opportunities for Minnesota while relying heavily on a sinker to induce ground balls -- his ground-ball rate is 53.9 percent this season -- although he does not induce a lot of whiffs.
This season, Kintzler is striking out just 14.8 percent of opposing hitters and owns a career K/9 rate of 6.3. It's a profile that nearly matches what Blake Treinen used to give the Nationals before he was dealt to Oakland earlier this month in the trade that brought back Madson and Doolittle.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker admitted he did not know much about Kintzler, but assistant coach Jacque Jones spoke to Twins bullpen coach Eddie Guardado for a scouting report.
"He said [Kintzler] is fearless," Baker said. "Throws a heavy sinker, doesn't walk many. ... He'll fit in nicely."
To an extent, the addition of Doolittle and Madson have already helped stabilize the Nationals' bullpen in recent weeks, and they are hopeful Kintzler will only continue to help the rest of their relievers settle in. The Nationals are almost certain to still search the waiver market for a potential relief upgrade throughout August, but right now their postseason bullpen appears a lot more stable.
From the right-handed side, the Nationals have Kintzler, Madson, Matt Albers and Joe Blanton in the mix with Shawn Kelley, who is on a Minor League rehab assignment, and Koda Glover, on a throwing program in West Palm Beach. Both are on the disabled list but remain as options to return this season. Perhaps they can regain their form from last season once they are heathy. From the left-handed side, the Nats have Doolittle, Enny Romero, Oliver Perez, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace.
"I think you can see that a little bit even before we did the Brandon deal that guys were starting to feel a little more comfortable in the roles that they have with the additions of Ryan and Sean," Rizzo said. "I think Brandon will just add another quality back end of the game type of reliever into the mix."
Rizzo said the Nationals never engaged in any serious talks about acquiring a starting pitcher before Monday's Deadline.
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With 28 saves in 32 chances with the Twins this season, Kintzler has proven that he can handle ninth-inning duties. However, the right-hander lacks the swing-and-miss skills of a typical closer (career 6.3 K/9 rate) and may work in a setup role in front of Doolittle. For now, mixed-league owners should retain both Doolittle and Kintzler on the expectation that one of the two will compile many saves down the stretch. Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Twins could hand their closer's role to Taylor Rogers, who leads the American League with 24 holds and owned a 1.93 ERA on July 21 before hitting a rough patch in recent outings. The club could also consider Trevor Hildenberger, a Minor League stopper who has shown exciting skills (19:3 K:BB ratio) across 17 1/3 career innings in the Majors.