Dave Martinez’s unique idea to help his new team deal with the expectations for the 2018 season was to bring actual camels to the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training facility in an attempt to help the organization that has won four NL East titles in the last six seasons, and lost in the NLDS each time, get over the “hump”.
“I want it out there,” Martinez explained, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.
“For me, as I thought about it, the hump is every day. And I want them to embrace it, not fear it. And have fun with it.”
That goal, of concentrating on the here and now, as Martinez put it at another point, and not worrying about October until they’re back there, is something Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo too stressed as obviously important in an interview with MLB Network Radio hosts Eduardo Perez and Steve Phillips on Saturday afternoon.
“There are so many people in the media and in the newspapers that are talking about October already,” Rizzo said.
“I’m focused on March 28th, and I think the important thing is that our players are focused on March 28th and getting prepared for the season. You take nothing for granted in this game, and winning is difficult in this league, and winning divisions is difficult, and winning world championships is extremely difficult.”
Washington’s won more regular season games since 2012 (555) than all but one team (the LA Dodgers - 559), and as Rizzo said, the Nationals have a process in place that’s resulted in the success they’ve enjoyed over the last six seasons.
“We have our process,” Rizzo explained. “We like the organization we’ve built here. We’ve built some consistent success and performance, and we’ve got — people talk about windows, we see our window being open for a long, long time. We’ve got a lot of good players under contract, with control, we’ve got a lot of great young players coming. We kind of have to get all the noise out of our ears and just kind of focus on the task, and I think that’s what the veterans really help us out in, those guys have been through the grind. [Ryan Zimmerman] has been on some really bad teams with us, and some really good teams with us, and I think that it’s their job to kind of shut the noise down and really focus in on that clubhouse and get things prepared for Opening Day.”
Rizzo also talked about shutting out the noise surrounding Bryce Harper, who’s headed for free agency next winter unless he’s signed to an extension that will keep him in D.C. long-term.
Rizzo said he doesn’t see the attention and drama over the 25-year-old outfielder’s future being an issue or a distraction for the rest of the team, especially after Harper did his part to shut it down, telling reporters in his first press conference this Spring that he wouldn’t be fielding any questions about anything beyond 2018.
The Nationals, Rizzo said, have planned for all contingencies.
“We have a long-term strategy for his organization,” he explained. “We always have a one, three, and five-year snapshot of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get done. It tends to lead us to — it helps us with our decision-making process, so Harp is a huge part of the franchise and the organization. He’s been great for us. One of the star players in the game, and I think that he’s going to take care of that portion of the — he’s not going to let it be a distraction. He’s nipped all those questions in the bud, and obviously, during the season it will get louder ... but I think he’s equipped for it, I mean, this guy has been in the limelight his whole life and he knows how to handle it, and I think that as we get deeper into this season that it’s going to take care of itself.”
Will Bryce Harper's pending free agency be a distraction for the #Nats and GM Mike Rizzo?— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) March 18, 2018
Rizzo, with @StevePhillipsGM and @PerezEd at #Nationals camp, part of MLB Network Radio's Tour of Spring Training: pic.twitter.com/NumgFuK4Q5