Bruney eager for 'challenge' with Nats
Former Yankees reliever to compete for club's closer role
In acquiring right-hander Brian Bruney from the Yankees on Dec. 7, the Nationals picked up a power arm who could pitch in the late innings. Bruney will battle right-hander Matt Capps for the closer role.
Bruney, who was selected by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft when Rizzo was with the D-backs, was 5-0 with a 3.92 ERA in 44 appearances as the Yanks' setup man in '09.
However, Bruney, 27, was left off the Yankees' playoff roster in the first two rounds before being activated for the World Series against the Phillies.
MLB.com caught up with Bruney recently to talk about his future with the Nationals, his relationship with Rizzo and his last year with the Yankees.
MLB.com: What was your reaction when you found out that you were traded to the Nationals?
Brian Bruney: I feel good being a National. I think there is a better opportunity for me there. I'm going to enjoy helping a team that hasn't been a winning franchise. We are going to be the 25 guys that make it a winning franchise.
MLB.com: It sounds like you are excited to be a member of the Nationals. Why?
Bruney: It's a new journey. It's a new challenge. You have to continue to challenge yourself. It seems it's going to be a lot of fun. When you expect to win every night like we did in New York, I don't know if the winning is as fun as when nobody expects you to win. You are the underdogs every night and you prove people wrong. I think that is a lot more fun. That's the part I'm looking forward to --- being on a team where nobody expects us to do anything. Hopefully we'll put some wins together, get on a roll and play good baseball for six months. We'll see where it goes.
I can finally grow some facial hair after four years. That's great. That was one of the first things I thought about. When I was traded, I said, "Wow, finally, I can grow a beard."
MLB.com: Rizzo is the person who drafted you in 2000. How good is it to be reunited with him?
Bruney: I have a lot of respect for Mike. I can remember him coming in and having a team meeting in South Bend, Ind., and I'm pretty sure all 25 guys there remember that conversation for the rest of their lives. When he speaks, you listen. The guy knows what he is doing. He has shown he can turn things around.
He should have been a GM a long time ago. It's good to see he finally has that job. I'm excited for him. In Arizona, when he was in charge of the Draft, Arizona's farm system was tops in baseball almost every year. He has an eye for baseball talent and he knows how to put a team together.
Just some of the things he has done this offseason -- Jason Marquis, Matt Capps -- Mike is trying to better the Nationals. That's all you can ask for. He is putting a better team out there.
MLB.com: What did Rizzo say to the team in South Bend?
Bruney: [Laughing.] I don't know if Mike wants me to say what that conversation was about. Like I said, I remember it like it was yesterday. It really made an impact on me. I remain friends with Mike. Every time I saw him, it was a pleasure to see him. We had good conversations. I'm very glad to be back with him. He knows what I'm capable of doing. I'm sure he knows I'm a good clubhouse guy, so I'm sure that's why I'm a National.
MLB.com: You went on the disabled list twice this past season because of a flexor muscle strain in your right elbow. How are you doing right now?
Bruney: Awesome. It could have been avoided. It was just one of those deals where there happened to be a home run replay [on April 19] and I had been warming up. I warmed up way too long. The replay, I think, took eight and a half minutes. I'm not blaming the umpires or anything like that. I shut that down and I think I overthrew a little bit. I had some tenderness. I went on one rehab assignment and I tried to come back. I just didn't give it enough time. I wasn't really honest with myself about it. Being the competitor that I am, that last thing I wanted was not be on that field helping my team. So I was so eager to get out there.
MLB.com: When you came back, you were wild and were taken off the playoff roster in the first two rounds. Was that because of your elbow or were you not productive?
Bruney: The latter, definitely. When I came back, there were wasn't any health concerns the rest of the year. ... When you are coming off an injury, especially an elbow or shoulder, you are a little reluctant to let it go and trust your body. I knew I was healthy, but when you are out a long time and you are used to feeling something, you kind of baby it. I was tentative with all my pitches. I wasn't throwing like my normal self. I think that's what caused my wildness.
MLB.com: Now that you are a member of the Nationals, what role would you prefer -- setup man or closer?
Bruney: I would prefer to close. I think as a reliever, that is the ultimate goal. I think if you are not a starter, the closer is the coolest job. That's what I did from Day 1, when I got drafted. I'm sure that's what Mike Rizzo knows me as. At the end of the day, that what I feel like. I understand that Capps is a tremendous talent. I'm glad we have him. Whatever they decide to do, there will be no hard feelings about it. Whoever they choose, it's best for the team. That's what we'll do.
MLB.com: If you look at the relievers on the roster, this could be an awesome bullpen. What do you think?
Bruney: I'm excited. I've been fortunate to be part of some pretty good bullpens. It's a lot of fun. You can feed off each other and help each other out. If everyone does their job, we could shorten games. That would lead to some more wins for the team.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.