You don’t get a nickname like “Salt” for being super chill and just keeping your thoughts and emotions to yourself. So when the crusty Brandon Kintzler grumbled his way through a brief Triple-A stint in 2016, his teammates gave him a moniker that reflected his curmudgeonly ways
“Anyone’s salty when they’re in Triple-A, so I just kind of had an edge,” Kintzler explained to Gordon Wittenmyer this past April. “I don’t know, I’m 5-11 and throw 92 mph. You’ve got to have an edge somehow.
“Everyone started calling me ‘Salt,’ and when I got called up to Minnesota, it followed me there.”
Kintzler is having a much better season with the Cubs after a bland 2018 that saw him post a 7.00 ERA across 25 appearance following a deadline trade from Washington. Allowing 14 runs on 27 hits kept him from being reliable in high-leverage spots, and his $5 million guaranteed salary wasn’t kosher with most fans.
Much of that may have stemmed from the whirlwind of being traded and the circumstances surrounding Kintzler’s abrupt departure from Washington. Nats GM Mike Rizzo isn’t known for his patience and reports at the time held that he jettisoned the reliever because the team exec believed Kintzler was leaking team info to the media.
The former Twins closer had been traded to Washington at the previous year’s deadline and had re-signed with the Nationals prior to the 2018 season. He clearly wanted to be there and may have figured he’d finish out his career with the Nats. And then he was traded on July 31 for the second time in a year, which he admitted left him a little wobbled.
It probably didn’t help that his birthday is August 1. Happy birthday, pal, here’s a plane ticket and a business card for a local real estate agent.
“The offseason was huge just to get the emotional side of the whole trade out of the way,” Kintzler told Patrick Mooney of The Athletic ($). “Everything happened so fast, and you’re just (wondering) the whole time why you got thrown away.
“You’re just trying to put your head around it and pitch at a high level at the same time. And then you’re obviously trying to fit in instead of just be yourself. It was just a whole mess.”
This takes us back to the Cubs’ oft-mentioned issues with onboarding new players, especially pitchers. For whatever reason, it seems as though an inordinately high number of pitchers struggle when they come to Chicago. Maybe it’s no more insidious with the Cubs than with any other team, but the focus of this site is such that we just don’t see it elsewhere. Either way, it’s there.
Regardless, Kintzler has looked significantly better after having some time to process everything and adopt some mechanical changes with the help of pitching coach Tommy Hottovy. As Mooney detailed, Kintzler’s delivery has been simplified and he’s throwing from a lower release point than before. He has also dialed back slightly on the sinker in favor of more changeups.
The result is a higher swinging-strike rate than he’s achieved in the past several years and more grounders than he was getting with the Nats last season. Not a power pitcher by any stretch, the changeup provides a bit more deception than the slider had offered and has allowed Kintzler to be more consistent and harder to square up.
He will almost certainly get the nod in his return to Washington this weekend, and you can bet he’ll revel in the opportunity to show them what they’re missing. Because from the looks of it, the Nats could use a few more quality relievers.
“I know they got the worst bullpen in baseball,” Kintzler said. “So I’ll just leave it at that.”