- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mark July 16 as the day they tried to fix it, for better or worse.

The Washington Nationals traded two prospects and deposed closer Blake Treinen Sunday to the Oakland A’s for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, both of whom have been closers before.

Washington sent left-handed pitcher Jesus Luzardo, a third-round pick from last season, and infielder Sheldon Neuse, a second-round pick from 2016, to Oakland. Luzardo was in the Rookie League. Neuse was hitting .291 for Single-A Hagerstown.

The move comes a day after the Nationals’ bullpen pitchers provided further heart palpitations by turning a 10-0 eighth-inning lead into an evening filled with consternation. Washington won, 10-7, in Cincinnati, after sigh-inducing, here-we-go-again innings before it was over. The next day, general manager Mike Rizzo was able to complete the deal for two veteran relievers.

The right-handed Madson arrives with a 2.06 ERA and 0.79 WHIP this season, his 12th in the major leagues, and a chance to be the new closer. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2007, Madson’s ERA is 2.82. He was a closer in 2011 and 2016.

There is a large gap in his career production, however. Madson did not pitch from 2012-2014 because of Tommy John surgery then choosing to retire after a team would not sign him. He returned with Kansas City in 2015, posted a 2.13 ERA, then moved to Oakland where he saved 30 games in 2016 before working in a setup role this season.

The left-handed Doolittle was Oakland’s closer and an All-Star in 2014. A slight rotator cuff tear in his throwing shoulder delayed his start to 2015, when he threw just 13 2/3 innings. Doolittle threw only 39 innings last season. He has pitched 21 1/3 innings this season. Doolittle was placed on the 10-day disabled list in May because of a left shoulder strain after just 7 2/3 innings this season.

Despite his previous shoulder problems, Doolittle’s velocity has remained near 94 mph the last two seasons, according to Fangraphs. It’s just a question of how much he can pitch. Doolittle has made back-to-back appearances twice in July, which is notable because it’s the first time this season he has thrown in consecutive games. He will be vital should the Nationals face left-hand heavy Los Angeles in the playoffs. Left-handed hitters are 0-for-23 with 12 strikeouts against Doolittle this season and have hit just .184 against Doolittle in his career.

Both are under contract for next season. Madson, who turns 37 on Aug. 28, will make $7.5 million in base salary next year. Doolittle could be under contract until 2020. He will make a base salary of $4.35 million next season and the team has option years for 2019 and 2020. By making this move, the Nationals add roughly $5 million in salary this season and $12 million next season.

Treinen ends up packing his power sinker and moving to Oakland after a surprising announcement on the last day of spring training in Florida that he would be the team’s new closer. Treinen stood in a hallway underneath Boston’s spring training home, JetBlue Park, with a large smile when explaining the news he had just found out. He was his typical gracious self and promised to be the same person despite the change from a pitcher dispatched in multiple situations in search of a ground ball to the man in the ninth.

Being a closer did not take. He recorded just three saves and blew two. His ERA in April was a swollen 9.00. Treinen takes a 5.73 ERA to Oakland and returns to the organization that drafted him in the seventh round in 2007 before trading him to the Nationals in 2013.

The move comes when Washington had no leverage. It has the best record in the National League East, the National League’s best offense, and a Cy Young candidate at the top of the rotation. Those strengths were undermined by baseball’s worst bullpen, which everyone in the league knew. Rizzo tried to fix a large part of that problem Sunday.

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