Na­tion­als see Glover as a closer. Maybe now.

Team has made choice for role, isn’t re­veal­ing it

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHELSEA JANES

west palm beach, fla. — The leg­end of Koda Glover, if some­one with so lit­tle on his big league ré­sumé can in­spire such a thing, dates from a few weeks after the 2015 draft, when the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als chose the big righthander in the eighth round.

As the story goes, when Glover re­ported to Viera, Fla., for the first time, the Na­tion­als’ staff passed out ques­tion­naires to all of the new ar­rivals. How many in­nings did you throw in col­lege? When did you last play catch? Rudi­men­tary things like that.

Then he came to one of the last ques­tions on the list: “Are you a starter or re­liever?”

“I’m a closer,” an­swered Glover, fresh from Ok­la­homa State. The words have re­ver­ber­ated through the or­ga­ni­za­tion ever since.

Not two sea­sons later, Glover, who turns 24 on April 13, has a le­git­i­mate chance to be just that for the Na­tion­als, who whiffed in their pur­suit of more es­tab­lished closers this win­ter and there­fore doomed them­selves to a spring of spec­u­la­tion.

Man­ager Dusty Baker said Satur­day that he and the Na­tion­als’ other de­ci­sion-mak­ers have set­tled on a closer. He is not yet will­ing to say who that might be. Glover, Shawn Kel­ley and Blake Treinen are all ca­pa­ble can­di­dates, and Treinen got two outs in the ninth in­ning of Satur­day’s game. But in­ter­nally, the Na­tion­als have come to see Glover the same way he saw him­self that day in Viera — as a fu­ture closer, in skill set and mind-set.

“What’s help­ful is the guy or two that says that’s what he wants to be,” Baker said Satur­day, pur­posely avoid­ing nam­ing names. “Which is big to me.”

Baker, Gen­eral Man­ager Mike Rizzo and oth­ers have de­scribed Glover as a bull­dog, fear­less and im­pos­si­ble to in­tim­i­date. But the con­fi­dence re­quired to earn such praise can be hard to man­age for rook­ies who must walk a thin line be­tween self-as­sured and pre­sump­tu­ous. Glover walks it well, with very lit­tle of that first-day bravado, sure enough of him­self

jab back when jabbed, def­er­en­tial enough to credit the vet­er­ans when he can. Kel­ley, one of those vet­er­ans, said that is ex­actly what they have tried to help Glover do.

“Our vet­eran guys, we want you to be your­self and be com­fort­able. If you can help us win games, then be who you are,” Kel­ley said. “Koda’s young and stub­born enough to just be him­self. He’s a good youn­gin’.”

De­spite the prece­dent set that day in Viera, Glover has been pub­licly def­er­en­tial about his role. Asked late this past week, he dis­missed the no­tion of be­ing the closer as “all talk.” Glover said, as he has since he was a sur­prise call-up last sum­mer, that he will do what­ever the Na­tion­als ask.

“That’ll work it­self out. We got a lot of guys that can take the job,” Glover said. “. . . The en­tire bullpen could take that job.”

But Baker, Rizzo and other Na­tion­als’ de­ci­sion-mak­ers know what their play­ers can sense — that not any­one can take that job, be­cause clos­ing re­quires a cer­tain some­thing, an it-fac­tor un­der­stood best when seen in some­one like Glover.

Closers come with stereo­types — a lit­tle crazy, a lit­tle cocky and a lot fear­less, though few meet all those cri­te­ria. When base­ball peo­ple talk about the per­fect closer, they talk about a stub­born cer­tainty, re­lent­less con­fi­dence and com­pet­i­tive­ness that leave no room for doubt. But few base­ball play­ers ac­tu­ally es­cape doubt, and after he strug­gled through a hip in­jury and com­piled a 5.03 ERA in 19 ma­jor league ap­pear­ances last sea­son, Glover dealt with plenty of it. Baker and Rizzo do not see Glover as some­one im­mune to ups and downs. They see him as some­one who will be molded, not bro­ken, by them.

“I def­i­nitely had thoughts like, ‘Am I good enough? Is my stuff good enough? Why have I been suc­cess­ful up to here, but now that I’ve got here, why is this hap­pen­ing?’ ” Glover said. “I feel like those are very nor­mal ques­tions to ask your­self. But at the same time, now that I’ve ma­tured at this level, I know my stuff is good enough to get guys out.”

If stuff were all it took, most teams would have no trou­ble find­ing closers. While Glover’s high-90s fast­ball and sec­ondary reper­toire are rare, they are not un­heard of, and bet­ter stuff than his has failed un­der ninth-in­ning stress. The dif­fer­ence be­tween those who suc­ceed and those who don’t, Baker has said, is that suc­cess­ful closers have the abil­ity to for­get, to block out fail­ure — prom­i­nent, game-chang­ing fail­ure — and re­turn, un­fazed, 24 hours later. Glover does not for­get. But he does not stew on fail­ure, ei­ther.

For ex­am­ple, while jok­ing with some team­mates in the club­house re­cently, Glover re­mem­bered the game-ty­ing hit he al­lowed to the At­lanta Braves’ Fredto Free­man in one of his first big league save chances late last sum­mer. He ex­plained his thought process, why he threw the fast­ball Free­man hit and why he didn’t get Free­man out the next time he faced him, ei­ther. Some­one told Glover not to feel bad, that Free­man seems to hit ev­ery Na­tion­als pitcher ev­ery time the teams play. Glover smiled and as­sured him he did not feel bad at all.

“You got to have fun with it, too. You can’t sit there and think, ‘Oh, I hate Fred­die Free­man be­cause he got two knocks off me,’ ” Glover said. “You have to tip your hat. The guy can hit. You just have to laugh about it when it’s in the past.”

For Baker, choos­ing a closer means a com­mit­ment, a will­ing­ness to let that pitcher fail a few times, but not so many that a pitcher’s con­fi­dence would be dam­aged. Since Glover is the youngest in a pool of closer can­di­dates, he would look most frag­ile on pa­per, the guy whose un­com­mon con­fi­dence the Na­tion­als would want to care for now so as to pre­serve it later. The Na­tion­als could de­cide to use Kel­ley or Treinen in that role un­til Glover is ready, what­ever “ready” means. When it comes to clos­ing, con­ven­tional wis­dom holds that only ninth-in­ning opdie por­tu­ni­ties can de­fine “ready” for sure.

But the rea­son Glover is in the run­ning — an im­prob­a­ble po­si­tion given he has spent just more than a sea­son in pro­fes­sional base­ball — is that the Na­tion­als see in him what he saw in him­self that day in Viera: as their closer, sooner or later.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Nats say Koda Glover, who turns 24 in April, has the skill set and mind-set to be a closer.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Hard-throw­ing Koda Glover is one of the can­di­dates to close for the Nats, who say they have set­tled on a choice but aren’t ready to re­veal it.

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