Kint­zler ap­pre­ci­ates be­ing wanted in role with Na­tion­als

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Jorge Castillo The Wash­ing­ton Post

MI­AMI — Bran­don Kint­zler’s first pro­fes­sional all-star game ap­pear­ance came in July 2009. He was the North Di­vi­sion’s start­ing pitcher in the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion All-Star Game at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, home of the Texas AirHogs, a nod he earned by com­pil­ing a 2.79 ERA in 14 games for the St. Paul Saints. It capped off an un­fore­seen first half for a 24-year-old right-han­der who be­gan the sea­son in the bullpen for the in­de­pen­dent league club.

Nearly eight years later, Kint­zler pitched in an­other All-Star Game. He didn’t start in that ex­hi­bi­tion, which was held at Mar­lins Park, home of the Mi­ami Mar­lins. He was there a few weeks ago as the Min­nesota Twins’ lone rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Amer­i­can League ros­ter be­cause of his ex­ploits as a closer. He logged a spot­less 11-pitch in­ning in the Amer­i­can League’s win.

“I had a lot of mixed emo­tions when I was warm­ing up in the All-Star Game,” the 33-year-old Kint­zler said Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in the vis­i­tors’ dugout at Mar­lins Park. “All of that was com­ing out.”

Kint­zler was back at Mar­lins Park on Wed­nes­day wear­ing a Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als uni­form for the first time two days af­ter the club ac­quired him. Kint­zler knew a trade was likely be­cause the spec­u­la­tion was so ram­pant. So to avoid the dead­line anx­i­ety he and his preg­nant wife went to a sa­fari zoo dur­ing the Twins’ off day on Mon­day. He was feed­ing a rhi­noc­eros an ap­ple — he learned rhinos love ap­ples — when he got a call from a Min­nesota num­ber a minute af­ter the dead­line to in­form him of the move. He then spent his 33rd birth­day on Tues­day trav­el­ing cross-coun­try.

The Na­tion­als wanted him and his nasty sinker to bol­ster its mid­dling bullpen for Oc­to­ber, and be­ing cov­eted is for­eign to Kint­zler. Gen­er­ously listed as 6 feet tall, Kint­zler was a 40thround draft pick — twice. Af­ter two years in the San Diego Padres sys­tem, the or­ga­ni­za­tion dumped him when he tore his labrum in 2005, which forced him to sit out the en­tire 2006 sea­son. Two win­ters ago, he was com­ing off an in­jury­plagued sea­son and wasn’t of­fered a ma­jor league con­tract be­fore sign­ing a mi­nor­league deal with the Twins. He was cast aside over and over again.

“All of a sud­den, some­one wants to trade for you,” Kint­zler said. “I don’t take it for granted.”

Kint­zler’s im­prob­a­ble as­cent can be traced to his time as a mem­ber of the Win­nipeg Gold­eyes, an­other club in the 12-team Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion. He signed with them in 2007 be­cause the club’s man­ager, Rick For­ney, heard about him and gave him a call.

“I looked up his num­bers on Base­ball Ref­er­ence just like ev­ery­one else and reached out,” said For­ney, who fre­quently had role in per­son­nel de­ci­sions. “You could tell right away he was ea­ger to con­tinue his ca­reer. It was a risk, but I’m happy I took it.”

Kint­zler wasn’t very good in his two sea­sons with the Gold­eyes. He was throw­ing 86 mph upon re­turn­ing from the labrum tear and posted a 4.41 ERA in 49 games across two sea­sons. A re­turn to af­fil­i­ated base­ball, let alone a ma­jor league ca­reer, ap­peared im­prob­a­ble. But that changed when he joined the Saints for the 2009 sea­son af­ter mas­ter­ing a two-seam fast­ball, a pitch he com­ple­mented with his arm-side sinker.

“When we had him, he was con­fi­dent,” Saints Man­ager Ge­orge Tsamis said. “He be­lieved he be­longed at a higher level, and he sure proved it.”

The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion All-Star Game was Kint­zler’s fi­nal ap­pear­ance as a Saint. Eight days later, he was pitch­ing for the Brew­ers’ Class AA af­fil­i­ate in Huntsville, Alabama. He made his ma­jor league de­but with the Brew­ers the fol­low­ing Septem­ber, but didn’t es­tab­lish him­self as a core bullpen piece in 2013. Kint­zler pitched to a 2.93 ERA in 135 re­lief ap­pear­ances be­tween 2013 and 2014. But he was pitch­ing with a torn ten­don in his left knee, which af­fected his abil­ity to land and drive his pitches. He had surgery af­ter the 2014 cam­paign, but the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion went poorly and he made just seven ap­pear­ances in 2015 be­fore the Brew­ers re­leased him.

“I learned a lot about tak­ing care of my body,” Kint­zler said. “I stay on it ev­ery day, and I think it’s helped get my legs un­der me, helped my stuff get a lot bet­ter to where I ex­pected it to be. I’m still learn­ing how to pitch with it. I still feel like there’s room to grow, so that’s the ex­cit­ing part to me.”

Fi­nally healthy, Kint­zler as­sumed the clos­ing du­ties for the Twins last sea­son and had 28 saves in 32 at­tempts with a 2.78 ERA when the Na­tion­als traded for him. He’s an un­con­ven­tional back-end piece, one that doesn’t throw par­tic­u­larly hard or rely on strike­outs to get bat­ters out. In­stead, he’s a ground­ball spe­cial­ist who com­piled a 53.9 per­cent ground­ball rate and struck out just 5.4 bat­ters per nine in­nings for the Twins this sea­son.

“Strike­outs will lead to a lot of pitches, which will lead to walks,” Kint­zler said. “I un­der­stand ev­ery­one loves them, and they’re sexy. Maybe ev­ery once in a while, I’ll get one. But it’s some­thing I’m not chas­ing for. I like to get in and out, and see you to­mor­row.”

Of course, Kint­zler struck out Ichiro and Giancarlo Stan­ton on Wed­nes­day — two of the four bat­ters his faced in his per­fect Na­tion­als de­but. He threw 23 pitches, 19 for strikes, his dev­as­tat­ing sinker’s late move­ment baf­fling hit­ters. He looked dom­i­nant. He looked like an all-star.

LYNNE SLADKY/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Na­tion­als re­lief pitcher Bran­don Kint­zler de­liv­ers dur­ing the eighth in­ning Wed­nes­day against the Mar­lins in Mi­ami.

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