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WASHINGTON – Last season was obviously memorable for right-handed pitcher Kyle Finnegan, 29, a Texas resident who made his Major League debut for the Nationals in July.
That came in his first season with the club after he signed as a free agent following seven seasons in Oakland’s minor league system, after the A’s drafted him out of Texas State in the sixth round in 2013.
But there was something missing last year with Finnegan: he didn’t get to be teammates with first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had played every year with the team since he was drafted out of the University of Virginia in 2005.
Now Finnegan has a chance to be teammates with Zimmerman in 2021, as the Nationals announced Friday the veteran had signed a one-year deal.
The right-handed hitter sat out 2020 due to family concerns over the pandemic.
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“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play with [Zimmerman] last season,” Finnegan told Federal Baseball from his home in Texas this past weekend. “His reputation precedes him. I could not have heard enough nice things about him as far as what he means to D.C. and that organization and the winning culture that is there.”
“To have the opportunity to play with him this year and watch him do his thing is very exciting. He is obviously a great addition to the team and the clubhouse. It is all good things,” said Finnegan, who was able to see Zimmerman a little bit during Spring Training 1.0 last year.
Another veteran that Finnegan – if he makes the team – will be teammates with is starting pitcher Jon Lester.
The Nationals, according to reports, inked the lefty to a one-year deal after he spent the last six seasons with the Chicago Cubs.
“You are talking about a guy who has done nothing but win and been part of a lot of great teams,” Finnegan said. “There is no doubt he will be able to help us this year. It is just exciting to add another veteran presence in the clubhouse. That is always a good thing. It is definitely going to help us.”
Last year, Finnegan appeared in 25 games out of the bullpen for manager Dave Martinez and had an ERA of 2.92.
He had a WHIP of 1.378 and averaged just over a strikeout per inning.
He is able to throw at his home in a bullpen and also works out with the team at Kingwood High, where he also played.
The school has the same head coach, Kelly Mead, as they did when Finnegan played there, just northeast of Houston.
This offseason has been a little different since he played winter ball after the 2018 and 2019 campaigns when he was in the minors with Oakland.
“I gave myself an extra month and a half of workouts and training and recovery,” he said. “I feel great right now. I am very excited about how I feel and how my body is progressing. I am starting to get that Spring Training itch.”
Finnegan is planning on flying to Florida and expects a regular start to Spring Training, though no official dates had been announced by Saturday morning.
He and his wife have a daughter and they just moved into a new home near where he grew up.
“My offseason kind of progresses in phases,” he said. “Early on, it was lift six days a week and then threw just a couple of days a week. Now it bullpen sessions Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The lifting is cut back to Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”
“I am preparing for an on-time start,” he said of Spring Training.
“I am getting ready the best I can. It is definitely nice to show up (in West Palm Beach) and not be the new guy and have some of those relationships I set up last year. I think I will have a much better level of comfort heading in. Spring Training is all business; everybody is trying to get ready and keep their body healthy.”
Finnegan said he has touched base this winter with Jim Hickey, who takes over as pitching coach after Paul Menhart was let go.
The reliever, who was born in Detroit but grew up in Texas, also spends time looking at video from last year since he’s always looking for ways to improve.
“Video is definitely a great tool for that and having those videos from last year definitely helps,” he said.
Finnegan was born in 1991 so he didn’t have a chance to see Hall of Famer Hank Aaron play in person.
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But the pitcher had watched tapes of the record-breaking homer that Aaron hit in 1974 to surpass the mark of 714 held by Babe Ruth. Aaron died at the age of 86 on Friday.
“You read about what he means to the game and what he was able to accomplish and overcome, being from the South and what he had to go through, it is incredible to look back and see what he accomplished,” said Finnegan, aware of the death threats Aaron received while chasing Ruth.
“You go back and look at the statistics from guys of that era and it is unbelievable,” Finnegan added.
“His home runs, it almost doesn’t make sense. Put that together with all he had to deal with off the field, all the distractions, and what he was able to do is just incredible.”