In discussing the job manager Davey Martinez has done in his first year on the bench in the nation’s capital, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked in the nation’s capital last week about the way the team was playing down the stretch as a sign that they’ve bought into the message Martinez is delivering to his players.
Rizzo was asked if Martinez was going to be back on the bench in 2019.
“I haven’t considered any other scenario,” the GM told reporters in Nationals Park.
“I think Davey has done a great job in managing this team. I think that he’s managed them through a lot of trials and tribulations that a lot of first-year managers haven’t had to go through, and to have the team playing with the exuberance and energy level that they’re playing [with] at this point I think is a testament to Davey and the staff and the way that they feel about him in the clubhouse.”
Martinez talked after a 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on September 5th, about the way the Nationals continue to fight in spite of where they are in the standings and in spite of an early deficit in that game that found the Nats down 5-0 after two innings.
Even with the players who were subtracted from the roster via trade at the non-waiver and waiver deadlines, the Nationals that remain have been battling down the stretch.
“They’re playing really well,” Martinez said. “[Wilmer] Difo is playing well, he really is. And he plays with a lot of energy. All the guys are playing well. [Bryce Harper] is swinging the bat good. [Adam] Eaton is swinging the bat good, [Trea] Turner, [Anthony] Rendon, all of them, [Ryan Zimmerman], so we’ve just got to keep going.”
“It’s tough to go out there and keep battling back, keep battling back,” he continued, “and ending up losing by one run. But like I said, I’m proud of the boys. They could have — after five runs in two innings — they could have folded, but they don’t.”
Rizzo insisted that the Nationals still have the core of a competitive roster that can make a run at the ultimate goal in 2019 and beyond, even after they parted ways with a number of veterans, like pending free agents Matt Adams, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madson, and Shawn Kelley, as well as Brandon Kintzler, (who had a club option for $10M in 2019 or a $5M player option).
There could be more subtractions before the start of the 2019 campaign (Bryce Harper; Matt Wieters; Jeremy Hellickson; Mark Reynolds; Greg Holland), but Rizzo expressed his confidence in the organization’s ability to keep the team competitive.
“2018 we have the roster and the ability-level to win the championship,” Rizzo said. “We feel that in 2019 we’re going to go into Spring Training in 2019 with the same approach. We like to, in the offseason, put together a team that we think is championship-caliber. We feel that we’re going to put together a team that’s a 90-win-type of team and in a good year that will mean 95-97 like we’ve had in the past and in a bad year it will mean 85 or so like we’ve had occasionally.
“Our job,” he continued, “is to put together a roster of players that gives us a chance to play meaningful games in September. And that’s our goal for 2019. We feel that the roster as we stand now is in place to do so and we’re going to put our process in place in the offseason to continue to put a quality product on the field for the D.C. market and to win championships.”
While his “the 2018 roster [had] the ability-level to win the championship” line is sure to raise a few eyebrows considering how things turned out, the Nationals were the pick to win the NL East for a number of preseason prognosticators, and Rizzo maintained that if the Nationals had stayed healthy and “played like they were supposed to” things would have been different.
“If we played the way we were supposed to be playing, then we’d have an opportunity to make this a race,” he explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“And that’s frustrating that we haven’t put anything together. That we haven’t really pushed [the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies] to the limits that we thought we should.”
“We have a good, young core group of guys here,” Rizzo added.
“We’ve got a good mixture of veteran talent and young and up-and-coming guys. When you can run out there five position players that have a lot of ability, three starters, and back-of-the-bullpen guys you have a lot of confidence in, I think you build around the fringes of that roster.”
“We got rid of some guys,” Martinez said after the Nationals swept a doubleheader with the Phillies on Tuesday night, “but we also had some really young guys that we knew could play and we wanted to see play, and they’re all stepping up and they’re all doing their job.
“Look, they know that I’m going to give them all the opportunity in the world to go out there and do the job and they appreciate that and they’re playing really hard.”
After a string of shutout losses late last month, Martinez said he wanted to see his team continue to fight down the stretch.
“I told them the other day, ‘We’ve got five weeks of fury,’” Martinez told reporters. “That’s what I call it. Go out there and play hard. Anything can happen.”
Before the finale with the Phillies last night, he said he’s seen the effort he wanted to from his team, who swept the three-game set in Citizens Bank Park and have now won five straight and seven of the last 11, though they haven’t made up much ground on the Braves, who ended Wednesday night with an 8.0-game lead.
They are, however, just a .5-game behind Philadelphia for second place in the NL East.
“I’ve seen the five weeks of fury,” Martinez said. “One day at a time, guys are playing hard. They’re not quitting. We fall behind, we come back. That to me is a sign of what we have and what we’ve got going and the players.
“So, they battle every day and that’s all I can ask them to do is keep battling and they do that every day.”
Has he seen teams in his career (as a player and bench coach before he became a manager this year) that did quit when it was clear they weren’t going to be playing postseason ball?
“I’ve been on teams where you battle, battle, battle, all year long and then all of a sudden you just run out of juice,” Martinez said. “I don’t see these guys doing it at all.
“They’ve played really hard all year long and they’re playing hard now and they’re getting rewarded by winning games, so let’s continue to do that.”
Would passing the Phillies and finish second mean anything to the manager and his team?
“For me what matters is that they continue to play the way they’re playing and they feel that way and that matters,” Martinez said.
“We’re not going to give up and we’re going to finish this out, whatever the outcome ends up being we’re just going to finish out and finish strong.”