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Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez and staff on the little things...

Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez and his staff have talked this winter about focusing on the little things this Spring and getting them right in 2019...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Things didn’t go the way anyone wanted them to in 2018. An 82-80 record and a second place finish in the National League East were not how first-year manager Davey Martinez and the Washington Nationals wanted things to end, but the skipper and his staff will all return in 2019. How will they handle things differently this time around? Martinez shared some of his thoughts earlier this winter.

“For me I’m going to push the envelope a little bit more than I did this year,” Martinez said.

“Especially with fundamentals. We talked about it already, the baserunning has got to get better. Not making outs on the bases. Fundamentally sound. Turning double plays. Being more aggressive on defense. Whether we’ve got to shift more, shift less.

“We’re looking at all that stuff. But we’re definitely going to push the envelope, especially in Spring Training. I’ve already told the guys at the end of last year, Spring Training will be a lot different.”

It was a laid back affair in 2018, with Martinez trying to take some of the pressure away after another disappointing NLDS loss under Dusty Baker. There were camels, there was walk-off practice, they even played golf at some point, right? A chipping contest or something? But it’s going to be different in 2019.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Martinez continued. “We’re getting younger, but we’ve got to learn how to play the game. I’m not talking about individual play. I’m talking about team baseball. And we’ve got to learn how to play together. We saw a little bit of it last year, but we need to do it consistently, so that’s our emphasis going into Spring Training, is just learning how to play team baseball and playing together, helping each other out.”

How exactly will things be different in his second year at the helm, running things in Spring Training?

“We’re going to do the little things,” Martinez said. “As you know, guys want to hit, hit, hit, hit, hit. There’s going to be days where they’re not going to bring the bats out. We’re just going to work on fundamentals. They don’t need to hit that much, we hit a lot, they hit a lot, and they’re going to hit a lot. But there’s going to be days where we just work on defense, going to be days that we work on baserunning, and just do the little things. Bunting. We need to get better at all that stuff. And the pitchers are going to be more involved in that too. Bunting, the hand on the bat, running the bases, because it can help. I talked to some of the pitchers about that, and they’re all jacked up about that, so it will definitely be fun, but we’re going to work on the little things.”

Having his entire staff return, and the continuity that goes along with that will also help to make things easier the second time around.

“We talked about it a lot going down the stretch,” bench coach Chip Hale said earlier this month when asked what he thought of as the “little things” they needed to focus on this Spring.

“And I said it yesterday, as a group, this is something that became very apparent early, that we were not doing the little things well. We were losing one-run games a lot, because of — not necessarily a pitch that we threw in the eighth or ninth inning, but something we did earlier where we didn’t score extra runs or we didn’t prevent runs, or we got something goofy on the bases, so we really talked to the individual position groups and let them know that Spring Training is going to be a little more work, we’re going to really focus on those little things, because we know the group now, we have the heartbeat of that group, the way [Davey] wants to play, they know.

“They’re going to have to come into Spring ready to go and work on these little things, and they’re going to have to get better at them. We know our division has gotten better also, so we have to.”

“I’ve been looking at each guy individually,” first base coach Tim Bogar told reporters when he too was asked about the “little things” the team will be focused on, “... and how we can assess what they’ve done in the past and what I can give them to get better. So when we get to Spring Training there’s going to be a lot more individual work, a lot more early work, one on one, maybe with a partner, that kind of thing. We’re definitely going to be working on double plays a lot in the infield. I looked at a lot of the numbers and all that stuff, and the good teams don’t turn a lot of double plays because their pitching is really good. And our pitching was really good, we struck a lot of guys out, we had a lot of fly balls, but we can get better in that area, and the balls that we’re supposed to turn we’ve got to turn.

“So we’re going to be doing a lot of that kind of stuff. On the bases we’re going to pay a lot more attention to that in Spring Training. Doing a lot more individual drills, live stuff, get the guys to react more to balls in play, that kind of thing. Davey, obviously, has always [talked] about being aggressive, but we’re going to be smart aggressive. And I think now, after this last year, I think we’ve all kind of figured out what guys can do and what they can’t do and what we need to teach them and what we can let them do on their own.

“And I think what we learned as a group is that we’ve got to teach every day. These guys are really good, but they’re baseball players and we need to teach them.”

As Bogar said, having had a year to get to know all the players, their tendencies, and what does and does not work for each individual is big too, Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long too explained.

“It makes a huge difference,” he said, “and it’s not so much knowing the hitters as much as it is the personalities, and kind of what makes them tick, and we talk about analytics in this game, but the human element, to me, is as big an element as any. Is this guy an approach guy? Does this guy like to talk about mechanics? Does this guy like to do this or that? What’s his drill work? What’s made him go in the past? What adjustments did we make this season? And what can we do moving forward? So yeah, I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did last year.”

“Offensively,” assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon added, “... the one glaring thing for Kevin [Long] and I is just the two-strike approach. Obviously, we know it’s an epidemic in the game, and versus everybody else we weren’t horrible, but definitely it’s a spot we can improve on, especially with the skill set of our players.

“I think we’ve got some guys who can definitely improve in that area, and definitely as a team.”

Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said having everyone on Martinez’s staff back will be an advantage.

“It’s great,” Lilliquist explained. “We all complement each other, and like [GM Mike] Rizzo said from Day 1, it’s not stay in your own lane, we’re all baseball guys, we all see things differently, and you know like K-Long can comment on pitching, and I comment on hitting and, ‘He looks different, what’s going on?’ So we all dabble in everybody else’s business, so to speak.”

“I believe we built a great foundation,” Bogar added. “I mean, I really do. I think in a lot of aspects, these guys — some of them have had 3-4 managers since they’ve been here, so they’re adjusting from year to year who their manager is, [who] their coaches [are], and how they handle it, and I think as the year went on these guys understood the foundation that we were trying to build and what Davey expected them to do from day to day, and how we attacked the games, play the game the way Davey wants it played.

“We didn’t get what we wanted last year, obviously. You can point to 10-12 different things, but the bottom line was, I think when you build that foundation and you go into next year, the guys that have been here already know what to expect, and I think it’s going to be a really good transition to 2019.”