From the moment Glover got called up in July, everything about him screamed ninth inning. From the ponytail mohawk and bear claw tattoo to the made-for-marketing first name to the I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude, it was as if he was the second coming of Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. As if he’d been sent straight from central casting to fill the role of closer. Lord knows, it was a role that needed filling in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Papelbon, acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, was on his way out. All-Star Mark Melancon, who would later come to Washington in a 2016 deadline deal, hadn’t yet arrived. The hope was that Glover, who was drafted as a closer out of Oklahoma State in 2015 and flew through the minors last year (eight saves and a combined 0.95 WHIP at three levels) might be the answer. Instead, he was a question mark, posting a 5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings and suffering a torn hip labrum in September that ended his season early.
"We like some Koda. Big time."
Six months later, with the Nationals having whiffed in the free-agent closer market and still trying to solidify the back end of the bullpen, Glover is channeling his inner Charlie Sheen more than ever. Although the ponytail is gone, the mohawk is more or less still there (a Koda-hawk, he calls it). So too is the bear tat, a nod to his Native American heritage (his first name means “bear” in Sioux) that lives on the right side of his chest. And, of course, there’s the attitude.
"People talk about how you gotta be this mean, bad-ass dude,” says Glover, a converted outfielder who started his college pitching career in true "Wild Thing" fashion by firing a 95 mph heater straight to the backstop on his very first offering. "I think you either got the stuff or you don’t. You either got the nutsack to deal with it, or you don't. ... I don't care who you are -- I'm down for it. I'm down to go toe-to-toe anytime."
Opposing batters aren’t the only ones the rookie’s intent on challenging. Coming into spring training, the smart money was on either Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen -- a pair of righties who excelled as setup men on last year’s NL East champion squad -- to ascend to the closer’s role this season, with Glover considered a long shot at best. Although both veterans have been solid in preseason action, there are concerns surrounding each of them. Kelley’s a two-time Tommy John survivor who’s never been a full-time closer in eight big league seasons and was last seen in 2016 leaving Game 5 of the NLDS with numbness in his pitching hand, while Treinen’s reputation as one of the nicest guys in the game has folks wondering whether he has closer DNA. Then there’s Glover, who at 23 is the same age Sheen was when “Major League” hit the big screen, and who walks and talks as if he was created in a petri dish by a group of rogue sabermetricians intent on producing the perfect closer. He’s been pitching like it, too.
In his first seven exhibition outings, the 6-foot-5 righty -- who relies heavily on a hard slider to complement his high-90s cheese -- didn’t allow a run. Overall, he’s limited Grapefruit League hitters to a .148 average, while posting an 11-to-1 K/BB ratio and a 0.63 WHIP in eight innings. The fact that each of his past five appearances has come in the ninth inning is no fluke.
“Not a coincidence,” said Washington manager Dusty Baker, who’s also quick to point out that the final frame can be a bit of a March mirage, thanks to light-hitting lineups where the regulars tend to punch out early. “You wish he was facing more of the guys he’s going to face in the championship season, because by then all the big boys are out of the game.”
Still, the Nats’ skipper has seen enough from the rookie to know he wants to see more. To know that, more than likely, it’s not a matter of if Glover will close for Washington, but when.
“He has the stuff to eventually be there. We just have to decide -- is he ready, or not now? A lot of times, you don’t know that 'til the season starts.”
For now, what Baker does know is that he’s enjoying watching Glover audition for the role.
“We like some Koda. Big time.”