Pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday, and a group of the Washington Nationals’ pitchers threw their first bullpen sessions of the Spring on Thursday. Davey Martinez, the Nationals’ second-year skipper, told reporters after watching his pitchers throw that he’d been waiting for this day to finally arrive.
“First day was awesome,” Martinez said in his first press conference of the Spring.
“We’re really excited about getting to today,” he continued. “Really was. I got here a little early because I was ready. Biting at the bit. Been ready for a while. But just seeing the guy’s faces, guys that have been around, the new guys, it was outstanding. It’s going to be what I believe to be a good core of guys, but I really believe this core of guys are going to play with a lot of energy.
“I think [GM Mike Rizzo] and his staff did a great job of getting the pieces that we needed to compete this year and we’re looking forward to it.”
As Martinez explained it, after a disappointing 82-80, second-place finish in the NL East in his first season on the bench in 2018, the Nationals’ brass sat down and started working to fix what they could while building the roster for 2019.
“We sat down this winter and we identified some issues,” Martinez explained. “Clearly, we didn’t sit around, we went after the guys we thought could help us this year and we got those guys, and it was a lot of fun. This winter we had a lot of fun trying to put together rosters and which guys were available, which guys we could possibly get, and coming into Spring Training and seeing the guys that we have, man, I’m super-excited.
“I wanted to be more athletic and I think we covered that, and I really wanted to focus on our defense and I think we covered that as well.”
With the additions of Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez to the rotation, the return of right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, two new catchers (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes), two new right-handed relievers (Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal), and new second baseman Brian Dozier, there are a lot of new faces in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“For me it’s about the athleticism,” he reiterated. “Obviously, Dozier is coming back from a little bit of a knee issue, but he’s ready to go. I talked to him, and if you know Dozier, he’s got that little chip on his shoulder, and he’s excited to be here, and I think he just makes us better. The two catchers, a little younger, very athletic. I watched Suzuki last year and the way he caught against us and what he did, and I’ve always liked him. He calls a good game, he’s not afraid to speak up, he’s a great clubhouse guy, so having him and having Yan Gomes, he was an All-Star, so having those guys, and then you go to our center field, you have Victor Robles, but don’t forget about Michael [A.] Taylor, who I’ve said before, I think he’s one of the best center fielders in the game, and we’re going to work diligently with him to just move the ball, put the ball in play, because he’s going to help us out a lot too, and with him and Victor in center field, think about it, that makes us really good out there, and Juan [Soto], getting his first full year and his second year out, people seem to forget that last year, the first time he ever played left field was in the big leagues, and he got better as it went on, so I’m excited for him to come back, he’s ready to work, he always works, and he wants to get better out there.”
The rotation the Nationals have assembled, Martinez said, will be helped out significantly by improved defense, and with the arms they have lined up in the rotation, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Corbin, Sánchez, Hellickson, Erick Fedde, and Joe Ross, they have what could be one of the stronger starting corps in the majors.
“I do believe that, I really do,” Martinez said when asked if he thought the Nationals’ rotation might be the best in baseball.
“I’ve liked Anibal for many, many years. Here’s a guy who comes in and competes. He might not have the best stuff, but you know what you’re going to get out of him every fifth day.
We get Hellickson back. I’ve known Hellickson for many, many years, and he’s that same guy. He’s going to go out there and give you everything he’s got for as long as he can do it.
“And I look down and now we’ve got Joe, we’ve got Fedde, there’s a multitude of guys that are going to compete for that fifth starter’s spot and that’s very exciting to me.”
Heading into his second Spring Training as a big league skipper, Martinez talked often over the winter about stressing the little things and doing some stuff differently this time around.
What will be different in the second year of the three-year deal he signed in October 2017?
“For me, we started today with the pitchers,” Martinez said. “I want these guys to be present every day, and win their day. Everybody talks about the big picture, and the big picture is to get to the World Series, right?
“But how do we get there? You start off by today, winning today, focusing on the here and now and not so much worried about — because we can’t control what happens in the future, but we can control and get better today and that’s what I mentioned today, that’s going to be our philosophy going in, to say, ‘Let’s win our day today,’ giving a little bit more sense of urgency with fundamentals and how important it is to do the little things. And I truly believe that.
“I talked to a bunch — a lot of players this winter about doing things like that and being more proactive with doing all the little things, and you’ll see some days where we’re not even going to hit, we’re just going to work on our team defense, baserunning, things that we need to get better at.”
Is that going to result in a camp that’s noticeably different for the casual observer?
“I would believe so, I really do. Like I said, there will be days where these guys won’t even come out with their bats. We’re going to focus on team defense and team fundamentals and not worry about hitting. Of course they’re going to come back in and go get their bat and go hit in the cage, but there will be days where we don’t hit on the field, and I think it’s important that they understand, ‘Look, we’ve got good pitching, and what makes really, really good pitching better pitching is defense.’ Last year, there were multiple times where we really should have turned double plays and we didn’t do it. We gave teams 28, 29, 30 outs, and it’s tough to win consistently like that and it’s something we want to clean up.”
Are the players buying what he and his coaching staff are selling early this Spring?
“I’ve had conversations with a multitude of guys on our team, and they’re all in, they get it, they understand,” Martinez said.
“I’m not going to bring up 2018, that’s in the past, but what I do know about 2019, is like I said, we’re going to get better at things that we weren’t good at, and they understand that.”