As closers go, Blake Treinen was about as good as it gets in 2018.
After joining the Athletics in July of 2017 and putting up respectable numbers during the second half of the season – a 3-4 record, 13 saves in 16 tries and a 2.13 earned run average — the big right-hander began his first full season in Oakland solidified in the closer role.
And he delivered right from the start.
Treinen was 5-1 with 23 saves and a 0.79 ERA at the break and represented the American League in the All-Star Game. At Nationals Park in Washington D.C., where he had spent the first three-and-a-half years of his Big League career, Treinen pitched a perfect sixth inning in a game the Americans would win 8-6.
By the time the 2018 regular season drew to a close, Treinan’s record stood at 9-2 with 38 saves and a sparkling 0.78 ERA. He struck out 100 batters in 80 and a third innings pitched.
It was a good time to have a big year because Treinen was arbitration eligible heading into the 2019 season. He won his case and a $6.4 million salary for that season.
And then the wheels fell off.
The 31-year-old battled injuries all season long, finished with a 6-5 record and a bulky 4.91 ERA. He totaled 16 saves and ceded the closer’s role to Liam Hendrix.
And when the season was over the A’s unceremoniously released him in early December. If the A’s believed Treinan was damaged goods, the Los Angeles Dodgers did not.
Two weeks after his release, Los Angeles signed Treinan to a one-year $10 million deal and he is determined to restart his career in the Dodgers bullpen.
“I don’t want to focus on 2019,” he said in a recent telephone interview as he made his way south to LA after spending most of the last seven months at his winter home in Walla Walla. “That was an outlier year.
“You can try to pinpoint it all you want, but there’s not a for-sure answer. You contemplate a bunch of things: Was it injury based or was it workload based?
“I had a crummy year, but at one point I was still 16-of-18 on saves. But I just wasn’t right. I do know that there were times that it was so frustrating trying to compete with nagging injuries.”
It started with shoulder soreness that landed him on the disabled list in June. That injury led to elbow problems and eventually a back issue that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
“I know that my mechanics changed a little bit,” Treinen said. “It’s almost certain that when something doesn’t feel comfortable, the body protects itself.”
Still, the A’s decision to cut him loose seems somewhat implausible on its face.
From the time he was traded from the Nationals to the A’s through the conclusion of the 2018 season, Treinen posted a 12-6 record with 51 saves.
But the native Kansan, who was originally drafted by the A’s out of South Dakota State in 2011 and subsequently traded to Washington in 2012 before he ever made his Big League debut, isn’t the type to harbor hard feelings.
“It’s frustrating from my point of view that I am nothing more than a piece to a puzzle,” Treinen said. “But I understand the business side of baseball and don’t get hung up on it.
“I am just thankful for my time there. They treated me we well and they treated my family well.
“That team and the players I was with, they were the most fun I have ever had in baseball. Bob Melvin is the best manager I have ever had in my life and I am hoping for all the success to the organization that originally drafted me and for that am forever grateful.”
During his years in Washington, Treinen witnessed the building of a team that would win the World Series in 2019. He believes he saw the same thing happening in Oakland.
“I feel that team is so talented,” Treinen said. “They need to tie those players down for years to come, because you don’t walk into that kind of talent every day.”
So now it’s on to Los Angeles and a team that is not building for the future. The Dodgers have won seven consecutive National League West Division championships and have averaged 96 wins a year during that run.
The team is still loaded, having added All-Star Mookie Betts during the off season, and is projected to win another division title. And Treinen wants to be a part of it at or near the back of the Dodgers bullpen.
“In a perfect world I would love to fit in the back end somewhere,” Treinen said. “But as long as I can pitch meaningful innings I will be happy.”
Treinen met his new team during the five weeks in Phoenix before spring training was shut down due to the coronavirus.
“I love my new teammates and (manager) Dave Roberts,” he said. “They have all been great and the training staff has been phenomenal. They have given me a couple of nuggets here and there and a lot of positives to work on.
“I am excited to see what this year holds and at the end of the day produce for a team that is giving me a chance. And I give all the glory to God for what He can do for me and my family.”