Matt Grace is DC Baseball’s Best Kept Secret

Recently an entertainer in World Wrestling Entertainment named Buddy Murphy began calling himself “Professional Wrestling’s Best Kept Secret” – with all due respect to his creative catchphrase, I believe we should start calling Washington Nationals’ reliever Matt Grace “D.C. Baseball’s Best Kept Secret”.

Last season Grace was quietly effective for the Nationals, producing a 4.32 ERA, 1.360 WHIP and 31 strikeouts against 18 walks over 50 innings pitched.  An 8th round pick by Washington in the 2010 MLB Draft from UCLA, Grace steadily rose through Washington’s minor league system before reaching the majors in 2015.  The 29-year-old Grace does a solid job minimizing home runs and inducing ground balls, with a career 61.1% ground ball ratio.  Grace is especially effective against left-handed hitters, allowing a meager .232/.315/.235 batting line in 2017.

In addition, Grace brings a unique element to the Nationals’ relief corps, notably his ability to throw multiple innings, as he threw 2 or more innings 8 separate times in 2017.  Grace does not overwhelm with his pure stuff, as his sinking fastball sits around 91mph and he has a good, but not great slider; however he locates his pitches well and has some natural deception in his delivery to disrupt opposing hitters’ rhythm.

Now the 2018 season has arrived and Washington has a new, forward-thinking manager Dave Martinez at the helm.  And certainly there is little question that Washington’s “A bullpen” consists of Brandon Kintzler in the 7th, Ryan Madson in the 8th and Sean Doolittle serving as the closer to finish games.  However, the inconsistency of fellow left-handed relievers Enny Romero and Sammy Solis leaves an obvious void in Washington’s bullpen for a left-handed relief specialist.  Furthermore, the composition of Washington’s current bullpen lacks anyone experienced pitching multiple innings on a consistent basis.   Already this season we have seen Martinez use Grace in four of the team’s first six games, both in a multi-inning role to finish a game and in the middle innings to combat a tough left-handed hitter.

The National League East is filled with many top left-handed batters, namely Freddie Freeman, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto – Matt Grace should see plenty of opportunities this summer to try and neutralize these talented lefties.  Also, Washington’s lack of a solid #5 starter and the absence of a true long-reliever should also give Grace multiple opportunities to pitch this season.  Therefore, the team’s bullpen will be counting on Grace’s ability to both neutralize quality left-handed hitters and occasionally pitch multiple innings in 2018.

Much like a Swiss Army Knife, you do not realize how valuable Matt Grace’s versatility is until you need him and Washington will be counting on him as a vital component of their relief corps this season.  Now, is there any chance we can convince him to enter each game to a loud “shushing” sound?

*Originally published at MASNSports.com on 4/6/18*

3 BOLD Predictions For The 2018 Washington Nationals

Happy Opening Day baseball friends!  After many months of battling cold temperatures and evenings without the soothing voices of Bob and F.P., Washington Nationals baseball returns today.

One of the many great things about Opening Day is the sense of optimism it brings with it – spring in Washington can be truly beautiful and the beginning of a baseball season leads one to think of the endless possibilities over 162 games.  Naturally, this leads fans to start making predictions for what will occur.

So I figured for my debut MASN article, I would make 3 bold predictions, plus a few honorable mentions, for the Nationals’ 2018 season.  Additionally, I hope this inspires you to share your prognostications in the comment’s section below.

#1           Adam Eaton Hits 20+ Home Runs

Washington’s big offseason acquisition prior to last season, Eaton was off to a breakthrough offensive season for the Nationals in 2017, hitting .297/.393/.462 over 23 games.  Unfortunately a fluke knee injury occurred running to first base, abruptly ending his season.  Now with nearly a year for his knee to recover and to build up his body, I am expecting a monster season for Eaton, with 20+ home runs and 55+ extra base hits.  Eaton’s career season high is 14 home runs, which he could match prior to the All-Star game.

#2           Jeremy Hellickson Wins 10+ Games As The 5th Starter

In a relatively quiet winter for all of baseball, one of my favorite low-cost gambles was the Nationals signing of Jeremy Hellickson to a minor league contract.  Washington was seeking a low-cost 5th starter in case young pitchers A.J. Cole or Erick Fedde were not ready for the job, while Hellickson will look to rebound in the National League, pitching half his games against the mediocre National League East.  I am not projecting a return to his 2016 numbers in Philadelphia when he posted a 12-10 record with a 3.71 ERA and 154 strikeouts over 189 innings; however, I see little reason he cannot approximate his career NL numbers of a 4.27 ERA over 447.1 innings pitched.

The Nationals have done quite well in recent seasons finding valuable contributors on minor league contracts (remember Matt Albers, Matt Belisle and Hector Carrasco) and I believe Hellickson to be the next example, providing Washington with 10 wins, a 4.20 ERA and 150+ innings while solidifying the 5th starter spot.

#3           Tanner Roark Returns To Form

Roark struggled through a difficult 2017, as he spent spring training with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and received irregular work throughout the tournament.  This caused him to start the season slowly and he never seemed to find his groove all year.  I attribute much of his poor 2017 to his unconventional spring.  This season Roark has had a full spring to prepare in West Palm Beach, and has made some mechanical adjustments in his delivery to improve his command.  Roark gets overlooked in a rotation with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but I expect him to rebound with 15 wins and an ERA in the low-3s this season.

Honorable Mention Predictions ->             Bryce Harper hits a Home Run on Opening Day.  Victor Robles permanently joins the Nationals on Mother’s Day weekend.  Stephen Strasburg throws a no-hitter in 2018.  And finally, Washington wins 92 games this season and wins their 1st playoff series!

*Previously published on 3/30 on MASNsports.com!

THE NatsGM Show Special – A Recap of the 2018 Nats Clubhouse Social

Last Thursday evening the Washington Nationals invited me (Ryan) and a guest (Producer Josh Owens) to their Nats Clubhouse Social event.  Because the evening was such fun and Josh has never appeared on-air, we thought we would briefly recap the festivities in audio form.

A special “Thank You” to Valerie Camillo, Sarah Perucci and the Washington Nationals for including us!  Below are some pictures from this wonderful night…

THE Joshua Kusnick Experience #26 – Sprinting For Takashi Saito

This week MLB Certified agent Joshua Kusnick calls in to update us on his travels during spring training.  We discuss the contracts of Lance Lynn and Mike Moustakas in the context of this strange offseason, Jeremy Jeffress, autograph hounds at spring training complexes, Takashi Saito and much more.

Thanks for downloading – Please follow our show on Twitter @JoshKusnickPod and on Instagram at KusnickPodcast.