WASHINGTON -- Koda Glover was officially named the Nationals' closer this week, as he has blossomed into perhaps the most reliable arm in their struggling bullpen. One of the major reasons for Glover's success lately has been his increased usage of a devastating slider since returning from the disabled list for a strained hip.
Although Glover often refers to it as a slider, he feels it's more of a combo between a slider and cutter, and even referred to it as a cutter with sideways action.
In his first 11 outings of the season prior to landing on the DL, Glover utilized his slider 29 percent of the time and got opposing hitters to swing and miss on it just 7.9 percent of the time. That pitch was responsible for three of his six strikeouts, but opposing batters were hitting .333 (4-for-12) with an average exit velocity of 87.2 mph.
Since returning from the DL, he upped his slider usage to around 54 percent and got hitters to swing and miss at it 14.3 percent of the time, entering Saturday's game against the Padres. All seven of his strikeouts have been recorded on the pitch, while opposing hitters are hitting .133 (2-for-15) against it and making much weaker contact at 78.4 mph.
"He's got a good one," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "That's one of his strengths that he's going to go with. It works equally on righties and lefties, so it works to neutralize them both. And then it makes his fastball better and comes in at a couple more clicks once you got that sink on his fastball."
Although his slider usage has improved significantly, Glover insists there was no effort to throw the pitch more often or reasoning behind it. He feels that when he is healthy and not battling issues with his hips, he can command any of his pitches in any situation.
"It's a slider/cutter, gives me a little bit more depth, and when I think I need it, I'll throw it," Glover said. "I feel like I have pretty good command of all my pitches. It's just what pitch I think I need to throw in a certain count to a certain hitter. That's just what it comes down to."
And that pitch has been especially nasty this week, as it seems to carry some extra bite.
In the ninth inning of a four-run win on Wednesday night against the Mariners, Glover threw a 93.9 mph slider to strike out Mike Zunino.
On Friday night against the Padres, Glover secured a save by striking out outfielder Hunter Renfroe with a slider clocked at 95.6 mph, which would be the hardest slider thrown for a swinging strike this year (Glover owns the top three spots on that list). If the pitch classifies as a cutter, it would still be the 12th fastest cutter for a swinging strike this season.
He followed that performance up with a strong outing to seal Saturday's 3-0 victory against the Padres where he recorded all three outs in a 1-2-3 ninth via the slider.
"I'm just trying to command it," Glover said. "I'm trying to hit my spot and trying to miss bats."
The increased slider usage has made Glover successful and given the Nationals some stability in the ninth inning. Glover recorded his fifth save of the season Saturday, second in as many days and third in the last four outings. He has not allowed a run in any of his seven appearances (6 2/3 innings) since being activated from the DL.
"He's got that 'It' factor. He doesn't back away from anything," bench coach Chris Speier said. "He stays with his strengths, and he's not afraid to throw what his strength is. He's not trying to trick anybody. It's that 'It' factor you look for from those guys who come in in the ninth."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.