Right-hander reliever Will Harris signs with the World Series champion Washington Nationals after being on the wrong side of Nats history in 2019.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
He gave up the biggest hit in Washington Nationals franchise history, but now the Nationals hope relief pitcher Will Harris can get outs wearing their uniform in 2020.
Harris, the right-handed reliever who’s spent the previous five seasons with the Houston Astros, has agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with the World Series champs, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. Harris appeared in 68 games for the AL champion Astros in 2019 with a 1.50 ERA, second-best in the Majors behind only Kirby Yates of the Padres among pitchers with at least 60 innings. Since 2015, he’s third in ERA behind Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
The signing of Harris is a significant upgrade to a Nationals bullpen that was a sore point in an otherwise magical run to the franchise’s first World Series title in 2019. They finished last in the Majors with a 5.66 ERA from relievers last season and in the postseason had problems finding a dependable arm outside of Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle. Manager Dave Martinez even resorted to using starter Patrick Corbin out of the bullpen five times in the playoffs; the left-hander had only made one relief appearance over the previous three seasons.
Doolittle is still under contract for one more year, while Hudson is now the most accomplished reliever left on the free agent market. That made the addition of Harris a necessity for the Nationals hopes of repeating next season. He won’t overpower hitters, instead, relying on a cutter that averages around 91 mph and a curveball. He threw 387 curveballs in 2019 and gave up just three extra-base hits, including one home run; opponents hit .149 off the pitch.
He was the biggest weapon in the Astros bullpen in 2019 and the arm manager A.J. Hinch went to in relief of starter Zack Greinke in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Nationals. But then Harris did something he had only done seven times all season up to that point: he gave up a two-run home run to Howie Kendrick off his favorite pitch, a cutter, that glanced off the foul pole in right-field. The homer gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead and they never looked back on their way to a 6-2 victory.
The move does come with some risk to the Nationals. Harris will turn 36 next August, and the three-year deal will keep him under contract until he’s 38.
The team he’ll be joining will look different from the one he faced in the Fall Classic. Gone is third baseman Anthony Rendon, who left for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. But the Nationals managed to re-sign Stephen Strasburg, and Harris is the biggest addition they’ve made to their roster this offseason.