The Washington Nationals made their first wave of roster-expansion call-ups on Sunday afternoon, adding left-hander Ian Krol, right-hander Erik Davis and catcher Sandy Leon to the major league roster ahead of their Sunday night game against the New York Mets.
Krol, an integral member of the Nationals’ bullpen from June through August, was sent down just more than a week ago with the Nationals having every intention of returning him to the MLB roster on Sept. 1.
In 27 appearances, Krol worked to a 3.24 ERA but while he was lights out at the start of his major league stint, he had struggled some since the All-Star break. The “player to be named” in the offseason trade of Michael Morse, Krol jumped from Double-A to the major leagues and thoroughly impressed the team’s decision makers.
He spent his most recent minor league stint with Triple-A Syracuse, working on his curveball and rebuilding his confidence some. Getting a lot of swings-and-misses on his pitches in the minor leagues went a long way in that regard.
“Mainly I was trying to get ahead of batters, but also throwing my curveball in the dirt on 1-2, 0-2 pitches,” Krol said of his focus the last 10 days. “Down there I was actually getting ahead of batters and being able to throw my curveball in those kind of counts, so it helped me a lot.
“For the most part I feel like it got a little better. Used my changeup, fastball. But other than that, just built some confidence up.”
Davis, too, is returning for a third stint with the Nationals after two brief previous call-ups this season. The right-hander worked to a 6.23 ERA in five appearances, but he has gotten favorable reviews from the Nationals with his work out of the bullpen in the minor leagues.
He said he’s spent much of this year, his first on the team’s 40-man roster, trying to teach himself a consistent approach, regardless of the situation.
“When you’re coming in in a one-run game in the ninth inning, it’s easy to be all fired up and in control of things,” Davis said. “But it’s not the way you come into every game. So it’s taking that same approach, that same kind of fire into every outing, no matter what the scoreboard says. I kind of wanted to refine my whole approach, as far as going into each and every outing the same.”
Both pitchers viewed this final month in the majors as a prime opportunity to continue to build their stock in the organization heading into next season, while also helping the team in the here and now.
“Every person’s goal is to stay here,” Davis said. “So while I have achieved some sort of success getting here, I haven’t gotten nearly to the point where I’ve been able to stay here. Hopefully this month I can just continue to refine my approach and hopefully put myself in a good spot for next year.”
“I want to finish strong,” Krol said. “I want to get everything I can out of the guys I play with. Learn a whole bunch. I’ve learned so much since I’ve been up here. Being around guys that have been doing it for three, four years helps so much more. So I definitely want to finish strong, want to take whatever happens up here in the next month and bring it into the offseason, think about it and work on some things. I’m going to take this next month as trying to learn, and at the same time trying to have success.”
Leon has not appeared in the majors for the Nationals this season and he comes to them this September from Double-A, where he’s hit .177 in 95 games. Leon, who said his struggle stems from an overly aggressive approach he’s been working to calm down, did appear in the majors for the Nationals in 2012, going 8-for-30 with two doubles.
Leon’s best quality, however, is his defense. This season, Leon threw out 39 percent of base runners (27 of 70) in Double-A and the pitchers rave about the job he does behind the plate.
“I’ve been struggling with my hitting but my defense has been good,” Leon said. “In making the playoffs our pitching has been really good but my hitting has been really struggling. Hopefully we can make it better here. The whole year was a long year for me with my hitting but my defense is there so I’m happy with that.
“I think it’s all mental, more mental than mechanical. (Nationals hitting coach) Rick Schu is a really good hitting coach. He knows how to talk to the guys when they’re hitting and stuff and I think he can help me a lot. That’s why I’m happy I’m here. I want to work with him.”
The trade of Kurt Suzuki to the A’s on Aug. 23, and the subsequent recall of Jhonatan Solano, left Leon as the only remaining catcher on the Nationals’ 40-man roster.