The Washington Nationals released veteran reliever Jeremy Jeffress, a team spokesperson confirmed, ending a two-week stint with the club.
The Washington Post first reported the news. Jeffress joined Washington on a minor-league deal, appearing to further bolster the back end of the team’s bullpen. But in a statement Sunday morning, general manager Mike Rizzo said through a spokesperson that Jeffress “was released for personnel reasons.”
Jeffress’ contract was non-guaranteed, contingent on him making the major league roster. The 33-year-old was coming off a standout season with the Chicago Cubs, in which he held a 1.54 ERA with a 0.943 WHIP.
His performance during that 60-game season reminded of his All-Star caliber 2018 campaign. That year, Jeffress managed a 1.29 ERA with a 0.991 WHIP. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio is 2.21 and his home runs per nine inning rate is 0.7.
When he signed, manager Dave Martinez said he was excited to add a reliever of Jeffress’ experience, giving the bullpen even more depth.
“I’ve always liked him,” Martinez said Feb. 22. “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. He’s got a good slider. Last year, his changeup was really good. We want to get him in camp and build him up and get him ready and put him in games.”
Jeffress was one of many former Cubs players to join the Nationals — Martinez used to be Chicago’s bench coach. Other former Cubs include left fielder Kyle Schwarber and starting pitcher Jon Lester.
Jeffress would have given Washington another potential closer candidate, joining late-inning arms Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey. Jeffress saved eight games in 2020 and 15 in 2018 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
His splitter sets him apart, Josh Bell said, who was 0-for-3 against Jeffress while the first baseman played for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I would just say he’s got one of the best splitters in the game,” Bell said Feb. 25. “I mean, you got a like me, who’s a left-handed bat. It’s tough to stay on splitters. It’s tough to get them elevated, especially against the shift these days. You can hit a ball hard, but if it’s on the ground to the right side of the infield, it’s likely to be an out. So I’m happy not to have to face him this year. That’s definitely exciting. I’m happy that he’s healthy, he’s ready to go and he’s coming off an awesome 2020 season. So I’m excited to see what he does this year.”
Instead, Jeffress is back on the free agent market, joining several accomplished arms still looking for work less than a month from Opening Day — such as Roberto Osuna, Shane Greene and Brad Peacock.
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