Manager Davey Martinez said things will be different in Spring Training this time around, but the coaching staff assembled for his first year on the bench is returning in tact in spite of an ultimately disappointing 2018 season in the nation’s capital.
There are some new players coming in, some key departures, and one big bat undecided as to where he’ll play next season as of now, but Washington’s skipper said he was looking forward to returning to West Palm Beach, FL, where he’ll reunite with the Nationals to start another run at the NL East crown, or at least a postseason berth.
“I built a relationship with all of them that they understand,” Martinez said this winter when asked about heading into 2019 with his team.
“Towards the end of the year they understood really what we need to do. And they’re looking forward to getting to Spring Training.”
There’s continuity, with the entire staff returning, though Martinez does plan to shake things up a bit, but the familiarity between players and coaches should help things move smoothly for everyone involved, and the second-year manager stressed that he expects everyone will have opinions and share them for the greater good.
“We’re all... my big thing is we’re all going to work on things together,” Martinez explained.
“There’s not going to be one — and I’ve always said that, ‘You’re a major league coach, you don’t have to specifically do one thing.’ We can all do everything together. I know [Hitting Coach Kevin Long], he watches pitchers, he studies pitchers, so he can help [Pitching Coach Derek Lilliquist], and say, ‘Hey, I think this guy...’ and Lilly, the same thing, Lilly watches hitters, and they both can talk to one another and say, ‘Hey I think so and so is doing this and this guy is doing that,’ and they go back, watch video and say, ‘Hey, you’re right.’ You know. And that’s what I want.
“For all of us to put our heads together and not necessarily work harder, but work smarter, and work every day diligently to make us better.”
“We all complement each other,” Lilliquist said this winter, “and like [GM Mike] Rizzo said from Day 1, it’s not, “Stay in your own lane,’ we’re all baseball guys, we all see things differently, and you know like K-Long can comment on pitching, and I comment on hitting and, ‘He looks different, what’s going on?’ So we all dabble in everybody else’s business, so to speak.”
“It makes a huge difference,” Long said of returning and working with mostly the same team that he and the other coaches got to learn about last season (with some notable exceptions and one bat still undecided).
“And it’s not so much knowing the hitters as much as it is the personalities, and kind of what makes them tick, and we talk about analytics in this game, but the human element, to me, is as big an element as any. Is this guy an approach guy? Does this guy like to talk about mechanics? Does this guy like to do this or that? What’s his drill work? What’s made him go in the past? What adjustments did we make this season? And what can we do moving forward? So yeah, I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did last year.”
“Obviously the relationship side of it is built up,” Assistant Hitting Coach Joe Dillon said.
“So last year, obviously, there was some feeling out and getting to know each other and building trust, and that takes some time, so this year we already have that built up going in, and obviously have a head start on what we want to attack, and with that relationship base already built then it’s easier to hit the ground running in Spring Training.”
“Now we’ve got a good relationship with all the guys and know what makes them tick and what they like to tinker with, so to speak,” Lilliquist continued, “and it’s great, we did some good things [in 2018]. Having said that, to be better this year — we need to stay healthy, that’s first and foremost. We can’t lose our closer, we can’t lose our second guy, it just kills us, so we stay healthy, we’re going to be very, very good.”
“I just think you have an opportunity — now you know each other,” Nationals’ third base coach Bob Henley said.
“It’s kind of like brothers, now you get a chance to — you understand the game, but I think there’s things within the game that — the viewpoints and where guys stand and certain elements of the game how [Bench Coach] Chip [Hale] views something or how [First Base Coach Tim Bogar] views something and aggressiveness in certain situations or things that we’ve got to be better here and this and that, and you kind of get to learn the strengths and weaknesses, everybody has strengths and weaknesses whether it’s players or coaches, just people, and I think you get to learn the strengths of everyone and they get to learn your strengths and you feed off of each other that way and share information and you check on each other, as far as their families, you get to know who their children are and their wives and then what’s going on whether it’s something great happening like Chip’s son getting married or something that may happen that wasn’t great, and you make sure you call them and check on them and see how they’re doing and lift them up.”
“So I would say it’s more like a family now,” Henley added, “because you’ve had a chance to be in the trenches together and spend time together and share ideas and through the good and the bad, it’s been a good thing bonding and it’s just been good. That’s probably the difference between starting now and last year is really not knowing how they view things or who they are as people. So that’s probably the biggest thing, so I think it’s a good thing.”
Hale talked about the growth he saw in Martinez over the course of his first season as a big league manager following ten seasons as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and in Chicago.
“He’s really sharp in-game,” Hale said. “He does a really good job. I know as a bench coach I’m managing the game along with him, and trying to stay a little bit ahead so I can warn if something else is going to happen, and to be honest with you, he was as good as I’ve seen in-game, and he has a real good feel for positioning, he’d help out guys, so I think he’s just going to grow and get more comfortable and more confident.”
“Personality-wise,” Bogar said, “[Martinez] was the same from the first day of Spring Training to the last day of the regular season. He’s a very positive person. He has that type of spin.
“He wants the guys to buy into each other, and I think the biggest thing for him as a manager is I thought I saw him grow as a guy that could handle every situation and take care of it, and not be afraid to say what he had to say to it, and he did that as a bench coach, I know that for a fact because I was with him earlier in his career, but I think as a manager sometimes it’s a little bit different when you’re the head honcho. But I thought he did really well, he made some really good adjustments as the season went on, to being able to tell the guys exactly how he felt and I think the guys bought into it, which is a testament to Davey and how he handles people.”
“I believe we built a great foundation,” Bogar continued. “I mean, I really do. I think in a lot of aspects, these guys — some of them have had 3-4 managers since they’ve been here, so they’re adjusting from year to year to who their manager is, [who] their coaches [are], and how they handle it, and I think as the year went on these guys understood the foundation that we were trying to build and what Davey expected them to do from day to day, and how we attacked the games, play the game the way Davey wants it played.
“We didn’t get what we wanted last year, obviously. You can point to 10-12 different things, but the bottom line was, I think when you build that foundation and you go into next year, the guys that have been here already know what to expect, and I think it’s going to be a really good transition to 2019.”
Martinez’s takeaway from his first season on the bench?
“For me I learned two things: As a coach, players would come to you and ask for advice and you communicate, talk.
“When I became a manager, you try to open those lines of communication, but a lot of times I had to go find the players. They’re more apt to kind of sit down.
“I told the story this morning about how I’d walk around the outfield just to talk to players, and as I was walking, a lot of guys would kind of turn away, ‘Uh-oh, here comes the manager, what’s going on?’ Hey, all I’m here is to have a conversation. I want to keep improving my communication skills with players and really, really hone in on like the everyday, what we can do better.
“That’s as a manager, as a coach, staff, to help our players understand the information that they’re gathering.
“There’s a lot of information out there. How we use it is important. You can’t just give guys information and expect them to understand it. We’ve really got to teach it.”
With a younger roster in his second season in D.C., that teaching part will probably be even more important.
“I just think he’s more comfortable with the personalities of the players,” Rizzo said when asked about Martinez heading into his second year as manager. “He knows the ability levels of them. He’s much more involved in knowing the type of players they are, and their ability levels, and what they could do on the field, that he has much more input on what he feels could help and how he manages the game and how we can improve on the roster we had last year.”