Davey Martinez has seen plenty of the Nationals from the other dugout over the years in his role as the bench coach in Tampa Bay and Chicago, including last October, when his Cubs and the Nats faced off in the NLDS, which Washington lost in five games.
“Luck was definitely on the Cubs’ side,” Martinez joked this winter, after he’d been named the new manager in the nation’s capital. Now he’s in charge of things in D.C., a city with a whole lot of history of not performing well in the postseason. Of course, the last team he was with broke a 108-year World Series championship drought.
Washington, which didn’t have a team for 34 years between 1971 and 2005, hasn’t been to the World Series since 1933, and a D.C.-based team hasn’t won one since all the way back in 1924, the long championship in the city’s baseball history.
With a number of players (Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy + more) and even the architect of the recent success, GM Mike Rizzo, potentially headed for the free agent market after the 2018 campaign, if they’re not signed to extensions before then, there has been chatter all winter about making the most of the window to win it all with the current roster before it’s too late.
Martinez didn’t seem too interested in the “window” talk when he was asked about it over the weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida, when the Nationals have convened to start the push for a third straight NL East title and a fifth postseason appearance in the last seven years.
“I don’t know what a ‘window’ is, per se, all I know is that we’re going to compete every day at the highest level,” Martinez said. “These guys are good. They’ve been good for the last couple years. All winter long I’ve heard about this hump that they need to get over.
“I think we need to get to the hump first, and my message is clear, to stay in the here and now and worry about today, and if we do that we’re going to be in great shape.”
Having seen up close what the players on the roster in Washington are capable of, the first-time skipper was asked what he brings to the mix, and what his expectations are heading into his first season on the bench with the Nationals.
“We’re definitely going to play with a lot of energy,” he said. “Mike [Rizzo] has done a great job of putting together a well-rounded roster. We’ve got starting pitching, he went out last year and did a wonderful job building a bullpen. We have speed, we have power, we’ve got bench players, which, I don’t consider them bench players, but we’ve got guys that can play at any given time, Matt Adams, Howie [Kendrick], Goody [Brian Goodwin], [Wilmer] Difo, I mean, the list goes on, so with that being said, you’ll see some different things, Matt Adams playing first base on occasion, playing left field on occasion, the biggest thing for us moving forward for me is rest, make sure guys are rested and healthy and good to go on a daily basis, and like I said, with what Mike did, we can afford to do that every now and then.”
The goal this Spring, Martinez explained, is to keep everyone healthy and get to March 29th, Opening Day, with all of the players as close to 100% as possible.
“I know these guys are hungry, and that’s a great thing, that’s a start,” Martinez explained.
“They want to get back to the playoffs, my job is to keep them here today and not jump the gun. Let’s just worry about today and get you guys ready for the season.”
Martinez was in Tampa Bay for the Rays’ first, and thus far only trip to the World Series, and three more postseason appearances after that, and he moved to Chicago with Joe Maddon in 2015, going to the NLCS in their first year with the Cubs before winning it all the next season.
How did the winning culture in the clubhouses in Tampa and Chicago develop after both teams struggled to break through for years?
“It’s about creating that culture,” Martinez said, “and a lot has to do with giving them the freedom to be who they are. We’re not creating robots, yet we have structure, and once you build that structure then you let them become who they are. And they get it, and it might take a little while. What I see with this club?
“They’ve been together for a long period of time, so they already have it. And it’s just now coming in and like I said, my job is to bring that energy every day, and to let them know that we will have that energy throughout the Spring, come March 29th, through the last game of the World Series.”