The Nationals rarely care to admit it when they’ve made a mistake.
For instance: after A.J. Cole made it rather apparent over the past few years that his best-case scenario involved a 4.00 ERA, the Nationals still stuck with him as their fifth starter to begin the season, refusing to make a change until his struggles were hurting the team.
The Nationals—or more specifically, Mike Rizzo—also claimed that they were ecstatic with their catching core as well as their bullpen all of last offseason, despite the fact that better options remained.
Why didn’t the Nationals trade for J.T. Realmuto—a presence in the lineup that would protect Bryce Harper and provide a stellar bat—when Matt Wieters’ 2017 didn’t necessarily look like an anomaly?
“We think that [Wieters is] going to have a bounce-back season this year,” Rizzo said before Spring Training, despite a downward trend and injury issues over the last few seasons. “He’s in great shape right now.”
Don’t forget that the Nats initially planned for Wieters to play less in a near-tandem with Pedro Severino or a soon-to-be acquired backup catcher that turned into... Miguel Montero? Needless to say, they scratched that plan, but it didn’t exactly show confidence in Wieters.
As for the bullpen, Rizzo and the Lerners had options upon options; names from Wade Davis to Greg Holland were available.
The team passed or missed out on the big names. Why? For financial reason? Another tier—of lower cost, high-effectivity middle relievers (think Matt Albers)—remained on the market.
Why didn’t the Nats go after Albers, who has somehow pitched better this season than he did in 2017? “We liked Kintzler better,” Rizzo told Thomas Boswell of the Post.
“Por que no los dos?,” Mike? Albers’ paltry $2.5 million salary would have been no more than a drop in the bucket, and could have saved the arms of Sammy Solís, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, and probably a few games in the past and in the future: the pace at which Martinez is running out his four reliable arms is unsustainable and could lead to injury.
The team has also been hoping that its injured bullpen arms—Joaquin Benoit, Koda Glover—are on the mend and will be back to help out soon.
Expecting Benoit to come back and be useful to the team is extremely optimistic, and ignores trends in his numbers as well.
Maybe Glover will be back soon. We haven’t heard anything about him, though, and until he can prove that he can avoid injury and recognize when to shut it down, it’s hard to expect a whole lot from the right-hander.
And then there are the rest of the injuries. Adam Eaton’s ankle bone bruise, day-to-day, was then only supposed to take a week to heal while he waited it out on the DL.
Computer, how long do bone bruises take to heal?
A quick Google search gives a timeline of three weeks for any bone bruise — ankle, knee, or otherwise — as the absolute minimum.
It certainly would explain the fact that Adam Eaton hasn’t seen a field since going on the DL.
Anthony Rendon was in the same boat with his toe, which was going to be ready tomorrow, then in a couple of days, then certainly by the end of his ten days on the DL, then certainly not tomorrow but the day after. If Jayson Werth proved anything last summer, toes take a long time to heal.
As for Daniel Murphy, his knee surgery surely wasn’t going to keep him out past Opening Day, remember?
When he wasn’t even swinging the bat late into Spring Training, the writing was on the wall that he would be out until at least mid-May.
In other words: Martinez has a broken bullpen, a starting lineup core out for the foreseeable future, and an undiscussed issue: Stephen Strasburg, one of the team’s aces, has pitched to a 3.63 ERA and a 4.22 FIP — decent numbers, but certainly not ace-type numbers.
In fairness to Rizzo, he’s had very few, if no situations where he’s constructed the team poorly enough for it to show when the team gets injured. But boy, is it ever showing right now.
Of course, the Nationals don’t seem to like admitting when things are going wrong. So, for some managers—Matt Williams—that meant they said nothing about any problems.
For others, such as Dusty Baker, expressing frustration with the process was the solution.
Dave Martinez came in branded as a positive guy, so honest positivity is his mechanism to cope with Washington’s troubles.
Davey got the team together postgame. His message: You’re playing with heart. Keep fighting. This will turn.— Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) April 28, 2018
The team hasn’t seemed to mind so far:
“We’ve got a great manager inside that office that believes in us,” Bryce Harper said to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, completely unsolicited.
“He pulls on that same rope with us every single day.”
Sure, he’ll make some rookie mistakes—putting the ever-wild Austin Adams into a tie game with two runners on in extra innings wasn’t his best move, but then again, his other option, Carlos Torres, hasn’t exactly been all too consistent either.
They’re called rookie mistakes for a reason: they happen once, and typically never again.
With first-year managers on good teams, the players will try to pick up their manager. The Nats simply don’t have that caliber of team right now.
When he took full responsibility for Saturday’s pitching change debacle, the team also seemed to enjoy it.
Zim on Martinez's mistake, and his manager's response to it. "It's nice to have someone who's honest about everything. It's a novel concept. Like even after the games in here, which obviously haven't been going our way, it's keep going, keep playing hard."— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) April 29, 2018
Anyways, what else can Martinez be but positive when his starting lineup that features names such as Wilmer Difo, Andrew Stevenson, Moises Sierra, Howie Kendrick, and the “streaky” (read: useful 20% of the time) Ryan Zimmerman, as well as the .200-hitting Matt Wieters?
What can he say when he has no other option but to run out Solís, Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle whenever possible because they’re the only effective arms in the pen?
Brutal honesty wouldn’t exactly work: “We may get better when everyone comes back,” doesn’t have the same ring as “keep your head up.”
As for the injuries bit, saying that guys are coming back soon is a time-honored managerial treaty in Washington.
(Remember when Bryce Harper’s thumb was day-to-day before he ended up on the 60-day DL in 2014?)
The good news? It’s not too late for the front office to atone for their mistakes.
J.T. Realmuto is still very much available. There are always more bullpen arms, especially from teams that will soon realize they aren’t contending.
Joe Ross is on the mend, and Erick Fedde has looked very good in Triple-A to start the season, pitching to a 2.50 ERA.
Bryce Harper and Trea Turner will eventually (maybe?) get out of their current slumps — especially when Harper finds some lineup protection.
Of course, there’s also the very real possibility that the team continues its free fall, and digs itself a hole too great to escape; maybe the injured players return but take months to catch on; maybe they don’t win the division or even a wild card spot.
Bryce Harper could be gone, and the team could transition fully into the Robles/Juan Soto era while enjoying a second consecutive season of hoping Adam Eaton’s spot on the roster isn’t wasted.
That nightmare scenario occurs if nobody improves in terms of output and health—which wouldn’t be a problem if the front office had acquired better depth or starting caliber players—while not making any additions to the roster.
If that ends up being the case, it’ll be pretty clear where the blame lies.