Jeffress was released by the Nationals on Sunday, Maria Torres of The Athletic reports. The veteran right-hander was being talked up by manager Dave Martinez only a couple days ago, so it's curious to see him let go so early in camp. Jeffress was apparently throwing well but had yet to pitch in any spring games for the Nationals before being released.
Jeffress could be ready to pitch in spring games after a couple more batting practice sessions, Jessica Camerato of MLB.com reports. "Here's a guy that came to Spring Training, he's ready," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Thursday. "The first time I saw him throw, he threw the ball really well. I asked him, 'Have you been throwing?' He said, 'Yeah, religiously.' He looks great." The veteran reliever had to settle for a minor-league deal in February despite posting sub-2.00 ERAs and sub-1.00 WHIPs in two of the last three seasons, as his velocity and strikeout numbers have both been trending down. If Jeffress is healthy and effective this spring though, he could become part of the Nats' set-up crew in front of Brad Hand.
Jeffress signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals on Monday, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports. It's something of a surprise that the veteran righty had to settle for a minor-league deal, as his 1.54 ERA last season marked the second time in three years that he finished well below 2.00 in that category. His 17:12 K:BB in 23.1 innings suggests he got rather lucky, though his groundball-heavy profile means he's frequently outperformed the ERA estimators. The Nationals probably can't expect another season with an ERA quite so low, but it would be a surprise if Jeffress fails to emerge from camp with a spot on the big-league roster, assuming his stuff isn't diminished. The presence of Brad Hand means he doesn't have a clear path to add to his 52 career saves early on, though he could be one of the top alternatives should Hand get hurt or struggle.
Jeffress worked around two walks to pitch a scoreless ninth inning and record the save in Friday's 1-0 win over the Twins. Jeffress walked speedy leadoff hitter Byron Buxton, but a double play quickly erased that threat. He then walked the dangerous Nelson Cruz but struck out Eddie Rosario to record his eighth save in 10 chances this season. Rowan Wick and Craig Kimbrel are also seeing some save opportunities in Chicago, but Jeffress has been effective with a 1.69 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and the veteran reliever leads the team in saves with Wick behind him with four.
Jeffress (4-1) allowed two earned runs on two walks and one hit to blow the save Tuesday against Cleveland. However, he did earn the win. Jeffress entered the game in the ninth inning to protect a 5-3 lead. However, he walked the leadoff batter and then allowed a two-run home run to Francisco Lindor to blow the save. Jeffress has earned the majority of saves since the middle of August, though Craig Kimbrel did convert an opportunity on Saturday against Milwaukee. It remains to be seen how manager David Ross decides to divide the closer role to end the campaign, though Jeffress has maintained a very solid 1.86 ERA and 0.93 WHIP across 19.1 innings.
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