Blake Treinen was summoned into the manager’s office Tuesday night after an 8-3 loss to the Dodgers and told he was being sent back to Class AAA Syracuse after making his first career start for the Nationals.
Treinen was down on himself after giving up three runs in the top of the sixth, a rally that was ignited by his own error on an easy comebacker to the mound by counterpart Clayton Kershaw. Matt Williams, though, was far more interested in complimenting the 25-year-old right-hander on an impressive performance given the situation.
“He was disappointed that he gave up some runs,” Williams recalled. “I said: ‘That’s a pretty good lineup over there. You’re facing a pretty good pitcher. And you held your own. You should be proud of that.’ It didn’t go his way, for sure, but I just think he pitched really well. He was poised, he threw strikes to both sides of the plate, used his breaking ball and competed. That’s all we could ask.”
Indeed, toss aside the final result of a game that got out of hand late amid a flurry of defensive gaffes and a pair of gopher balls served up by Ross Detwiler, and what you had was a head-turning outing from a guy starting a big-league game for the first time.
Treinen was downright dominant through five innings, scattering four singles without allowing a run and dazzling an unsuspecting Dodgers lineup with a pitch few ever have to face: a heavy sinker that consistently registered 97-98 mph.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a guy with that sink,” catcher Jose Lobaton said. “It’s not easy to hit, and it’s not easy to catch.”
Lobaton laughed as he recalled a conversation he had with plate umpire Paul Nauert, who informed the catcher he might get a few more borderline calls if he held Treinen’s pitches a little better, not letting the natural movement pull his glove down.
“I’m like: ‘It’s not easy,’” Lobaton said. “‘It’s 97-98 with sink. I’m trying, but it’s not easy.’”
The Nationals have been high on Treinen since acquiring him as part of the three-team trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle in January 2013, but he really burst onto the scene this spring, flashing that heavy sinker and making a strong case to make the Opening Day roster. He wound up beginning the season at Syracuse but was quickly called up last month when the club needed a fresh arm and made three relief appearances.
All along, the club wanted Treinen to stretch himself out to be a starter, and when the need for a fill-in arose on Tuesday, he got the call.
Having already appeared in three big-league games, he didn’t feel typical nerves when he took the mound, though there was an emotional moment. Before throwing his first pitch, Treinen drew a cross and the initials “K.C.” behind the rubber, a tribute to his aunt, Kim Cousin, who died on Monday.
Then he got down to business, cruising through the first inning on 10 pitches and thoroughly controlling a talent-laden Dodgers lineup.
“Not so much nerves as it was trying to give them an opportunity to win this game and stay in it as best as possible,” he said.
Treinen’s undoing came in the top of the sixth, in surprisingly quick fashion. He booted Kershaw’s comebacker for an error, then watched as first baseman Adam LaRoche had trouble handling a bouncer by Dee Gordon. An infield hit by Carl Crawford loaded the bases before Hanley Ramirez’s opposite-field single brought home the night’s first run and sent Treinen to the showers.
“If I field that ball to start the sixth inning there, it might be a totally different ballgame,” he said. “I’ll just work on settling down and taking my time next time.”
When that next time will come remains to be seen. After the game, Treinen was optioned back to Class AAA. The Nationals won’t make a corresponding move until Wednesday morning, but there’s a decent chance catcher Wilson Ramos will be activated off the disabled list and make his first start behind the plate since he broke a bone in his hand Opening Day.
“That’s one option we’re looking at,” Williams said.
Treinen will head back to Syracuse, where he’ll get a chance to pitch every fifth day, build up his arm and refine some things. He left D.C. disappointed with the end result of this game, but he left having made a real impression on his manager and others in the organization.
“I think he pitched pretty well,” Williams said, pointing toward the visiting clubhouse. “I bet if you asked those guys over there, they thought he pitched pretty good, too.”