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*