With pitchers and catchers already in West Palm Beach, FL, as well as a good number of position players, who don’t have to report until Monday the 19th, Dave Martinez and the Washington Nationals are still getting to know one another.
Martinez also reveals more of himself every day, when he meets with reporters to discuss what he’s seen from the team. He’s done so twice already.
So has anything surprised him in his first few days as a manager?
“Absolutely nothing,” he joked on Friday afternoon. He is, however, having trouble getting sleep, thinking about his lineup, and getting to the ballpark as early as possible to get his day started.
When he can’t sleep, is he thinking about lineup permutations?
“I try not to think about lineups too much,” Martinez said. “I mean, but I think about the players and what I can do on that particular day to help one of them.”
Seeing players in person, and on this side of things, has given him a chance to get to know everyone better.
“It’s funny,” he explained, “... ‘cause I can tell that they compete every day and they all want to be the best, and that’s, for me, that’s awesome. Perfect example, yesterday, I’m watching [Max] Scherzer go out there for the first time and he’s facing hitters. That’s pretty awesome.”
[ed. note - “Scherzer isn’t facing hitters, facing hitters. MASN’s Mark Zuckerman explains HERE that it’s more throwing like he’s in different counts and scenarios while he’s working in his bullpen sessions.”]
“And I see [Stephen] Strasburg today, already working on locating his breaking ball. So these guys are true professionals, and they get it. I’m just excited to get to go out there and watch them on a daily basis.”
He also got a good look at A.J. Cole, the frontrunner for the fifth spot in the rotation going into Spring Training. Martinez was impressed with what he saw from the 26-year-old right-hander.
“Obviously, if A.J. goes out there and does what he’s capable of doing — he threw a bullpen today, and he was phenomenal, I mean, he really was, and that was fun to see and very exciting, a fifth starter with that kind of arm and the way he pitched last year, finished up the season, he’s got the upper hand, but like I said, Spring Training is long, my biggest concern is that he comes out of here and he’s healthy and ready to go.”
He said he’s also talked to both Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, as of right now the third and fourth starters in the rotation, and said he’s told both how big a role he expects for each of them to play this season.
“They’re going to be huge,” Martinez said today.
“I mean, they really are. I’ve had conversations with both Gio and Tanner already, and we need them and they understand that and they’re ready for the task, both of them are fired up and full of energy. I watched Gio today, and he was throwing curveballs like he was in the end of May already, and I was shocked. He said he feels great and he’s ready, and I think it’s about giving these guys confidence and letting them now every day, ‘Hey, we can’t do this without you, so you’re a big part of our successes and moving forward and we need you not just now, but for the whole year and for the postseason.”
As he gets to know his team, Martinez is also getting a feel for himself as a manager and how he’s going to handle things, after having spent the previous ten years as Tampa Bay and Chicago’s bench coach.
“I have to form my own routine,” he said. “I know for years as a bench coach I formed my own routine, had a thing going. It’s hard — like today, I wanted to watch all the pitchers, but yet I wanted to watch other things and I wanted to just leave, and I said I want to make sure I see everybody throw that I need to see, so that’s kind of tough. I love the game, I’m passionate about the game, I love every aspect of the game, I like to see the catchers work, I like to see different things, so that’s one of the things that I really have to adjust on knowing where I need to be and when I need to be there.”
He’s also committed to making sure that the players aren’t there longer than they need to be to get their work in, so the first few days, workouts have been quick and thorough, and the players are free to go about their day once they’re done.
“It’s quality, not quantity,” Martinez explained.
“But these guys, what people don’t see is that they’re in the gym at 7:30 in the morning, they’re working. A lot of these guys condition early, they’re coming in and getting their treatments with the trainers, they’re doing all kinds of stuff before they even get on the field.”
He was asked today if any of the players from his past teams have reached out with any advice about how he should handle things now that he’s in charge.
“Everybody says, whatever you do, don’t change who you are, and I won’t,” Martinez said.
“I’m who I am. I’ll always be who I am. I’m very passionate about what I do. And I love the game and I love people, and I think they see that. I know the players that I’ve been involved with, we stay in touch quite a bit and they realize that not only on the field, but off the field, I care.”
Martinez, more than anything, just wants to get his team through Spring Training healthy.
“These first few days, even the first week or so, you just want to see guys come out and make sure that they’re healthy and they’re getting their work in and start competing,” he said.
“I think that these guys, they understand what our roster is like, of course the fifth starter spot is open, maybe a couple bullpen spots are open, but for me it’s about talking to them and saying, ‘Hey, just be yourself, just go out there and do your thing, there’s people above that make those kind of decisions, just go out there and compete.”