The Washington Nationals added more depth to the back end of their bullpen Monday, signing right-hander Jeremy Jeffress to a minor league deal. The deal is pending a physical and coronavirus intake screening once he arrives at spring training, manager Dave Martinez said.
Jeffress is coming off a standout year with the Chicago Cubs, in which he pitched his way to a 1.54 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. His WHIP dipped to a career-low 0.943 while giving up just 0.4 home runs per nine innings.
He was an all-star selection in 2018 with the Milwaukee Brewers, and his career marks for ERA and WHIP stand at 3.08 and 1.324, respectively. The 33-year-old from South Boston, Virginia, recorded eight saves for the Cubs last year, giving more options for Martinez to use in critical situations should Jeffress make the major league roster.
“This winter we did a lot of different things to try to make sure we had some depth, especially in our bullpen,” Martinez said. “And he’s another guy that will have an opportunity to make this club, and another guy that gives us that kind of depth if we need to.”
Jeffress’ numbers last season rivaled those of his 2018 performance. During that all-star season with the Brewers, Jeffress posted a 1.29 ERA in 76 2/3 innings. He struck out a career-high 89 batters, too. His arsenal includes a four-seam fastball, sinker, splitter, curveball and changeup, according to Baseball Savant.
Martinez has already spoken with Jeffress and is excited to have him on board. Martinez said he brought up Jeffress to general manager Mike Rizzo, noticing the right-hander was still available.
“I’ve always liked him,” Martinez said. “The guy takes the ball every day. He’s a competitor. You never have to ask him whether he’s OK to pitch. What we liked is, he pitched well last year. He got back to that form like he was when he was an all-star. The key with him is obviously strike one and keeping the ball down. When he’s down, he’s really good.”
Washington suddenly has a crowded bullpen. Should Jeffress make the major league roster, he’d join a slew of reliable late-inning arms, including Tanner Rainey, Will Harris and Daniel Hudson. The Nationals also signed left-hander Brad Hand this offseason, who comes off 16 saves with the Cleveland Indians in 2020.
Martinez doesn’t know the exact number of relievers he wants to keep, but said a 13-man pitching staff — including the five starters — “sounds about right.” He’ll know more when he’s able to evaluate the arms in spring training exhibition games.
Martinez said Jeffress has a certain “spunk” to him when he’s on the mound. Martinez recalled a battle between Jeffress and Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, and said Jeffress didn’t give in. Now Washington can benefit from that same determination, should the physical and spring training evaluation go as planned.
“You know what you’re going to get from Jeremy,” Martinez said. “I love that. He brings that attitude to the Nationals now. I think it’s going to be awesome.”