After their 2013 season uncovered a glaring need for lefty relievers, the Nationals made sure they fixed the problem this offseason. On Dec. 11 they made yet another trade with the Oakland Athletics, this time to bring in 30-year-old southpaw Jerry Blevins.
A lot is expected of Blevins who will be tasked with retiring lefties in high leverage situations, and if you look around the NL East division, there are plenty of worthy foes. The Braves feature Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, the Phillies have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and the Mets signed Curtis Granderson this offseason.
Blevins can already see the scenarios: up and out of the bullpen in a tight September game with runners on base, and he has to stop the bleeding. Blevins says he’s already begun preparing for those very situations.
“I’ve done a little bit of my own research. I’ve gone onto rosters and looked at their left-handed hitters. I’ve looked at if I’ve faced them in the past,” he said at last Saturday’s Nats Fest.
“But they don’t know me either so it’s a little bit of a surprise on both ends.”
One part of Blevins’ game that attracted general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nats was the lefty’s versatility. In 2013 with the Athletics, it wasn’t rare to see him pitch for one out on one day, and then two full innings the next. He isn’t picky about his role, as long as he gets on the field.
“I honestly have no preference,” he said. “I’ll come in and face a batter. The competitive side of me likes to face as many people as I can, I pride myself on being able to get lefties and righties out, but I understand there’s a need for lefty on lefty matchups. Literally anything that’s asked of me I will do.”
Blevins has been more effective against left-handed batters over the course of his career, but last year saw that trend reversed. He held righties to a .190 average while lefties hit .253 off of him. Blevins says his changeup and backdoor cutter are particularly successful against right-handed batters.
Blevins believes he’ll fit in with the Nationals both on the field and off. He considers himself a laid back type of guy who gets along with just about everybody. He has a history with Craig Stammen as a former teammate at the University of Dayton, and Gio Gonzalez as they came up through the A's system together. Knowing them and how they fit in the Nationals’ clubhouse, he thinks he’ll adjust quite easily.
“Hopefully just add a positive personality, somebody that keeps the clubhouse light,” he said. “But also focused and headed in a positive direction. Just somebody that can go out there and do their job and be an example of somebody that’s ready to go every day and ready to do what the team asks of me.”
When Blevins first heard he was traded, he called both Gonzalez and Stammen. Gonzalez picked up, but Stammen took days to respond, despite multiple attempts by Blevins to contact him. It turns out Stammen was overseas in the Phillipines.
“’I can’t believe you’re not calling me, you jerk,’” Blevins thought. “Then I realized that I’m the jerk.”
Blevins is from Ohio, as is Stammen, and is excited for the benefits of being closer to home. Instead of his family staying up until 10 or 10:30 every night to watch him pitch, they can now watch his games several hours earlier. They also plan to come visit him in Washington, as it’s only about an eight-hour drive from Arcadia, OH.
Having Blevins closer wasn’t the only positive for his family, as his mother has already liked the team for several years. Blevins says it’s because of the color scheme.
“She’s a fan of anything that’s patriotic. Her favorite colors are red, white and blue. So literally as soon as I got traded, she’s like ‘your colors are red, white and blue!’ She’s really excited. She got us all Washington Nationals t-shirts for Christmas, it was my first piece of actual Nationals gear.”
Blevins made headlines the day he was traded after tweeting a photo of himself in a makeshift Nationals jersey. He cut out curly Ws from computer paper and taped them to his hat and t-shirt to emulate a jersey.
At Nats Fest on Saturday he finally donned the real one.
“This one looks and feels much better than the one I made,” he said.
Blevins will wear No. 13, just as he did in Oakland. It’s the same jersey number he’s had since he was a 10-year-old playing on his older brother’s little league team. Despite the stigma of bad luck associated with the number, he considers it a part of him now after all these years.
“I think it’s a lefty thing. We’re a little bit different than most people,” he said.