It’s not too surprising that Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon, (who mentored Davey Martinez as his bench coach in Tampa Bay, brought him along with him to Chicago in the same role, and championed Martinez as he interviewed for managerial openings over the years), spoke up in support of Washington’s skipper before the start of the three-game set between their two teams, when he was asked about the second-year manager being on the hot seat with the Nationals struggling over the first two months this season.
It is somewhat surprising that Maddon spoke openly about how hard it is to judge Martinez with the bullpen he was handed this season, which has been the National League’s worst in a number of categories since the beginning of the year.
“Before you get all weirded out about Davey, let’s get a bullpen that plays consistently well, and then you can find out what you’ve got,” Maddon said on Friday, as quoted by Chicago Sun-Times’ writer Gordon Wittenmyer.
“Because I’m telling you, man,” Maddon continued, “... you can do everything right in a ballgame as a manager, whether it’s pregame [preparation] or during the game. But if you can’t get those outs in the latter part of the game it’s extremely frustrating for everybody.”
Maddon, who’d said Martinez was ready to manage before he got the gig in in D.C. in late 2017, following ten years as the Rays and Cubs’ bench coach, told reporters on Friday he still thinks the manager is a perfect fit in Washington.
“Just based on Davey being a veteran player, walking into a veteran group like this,” Maddon said.
“They’ve had problems; they’ve had issues; they’ve had injuries. Their bullpen hasn’t been good. Listen, when your bullpen’s not good, it’s hard to look smart.”
Maddon looked smart when the Nationals’ bullpen imploded again in the series opener with the Cubs, giving up 12 hits and 11 earned runs in three innings, turning what was a 5-4 game in Chicago’s favor after seven into a 14-6 game after nine, after Max Scherzer allowed a total of three runs in six innings to start the matchup.
The Nationals’ relievers, as a group, finished up the first of three with the Cubs in D.C. with a National League-worst 6.82 ERA, an NL-worst 5.19 FIP, 4.48 BB/9 (4th highest in the NL), 1.58 HR/9 (second-highest in the NL), a .338 BABIP-against (the NL’s highest), a .283 BAA (which, you might have guessed, was also the highest amongst NL relief corps), and an NL-low 64.2% LOB%, all of which has combined to make it hard on everyone in Washington.
“RIght now, they’ve got to regroup,” Martinez said after the Nats fell to 18-26 overall with the loss to Maddon’s Cubs on Friday. “This is the bullpen we have, you know.”
“Yesterday they were really good. Today they weren’t, so they’ve got to regroup. The issue is when you fall behind on good hitters, you’re going to get hit. Yesterday they didn’t. Today, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 3-2, 3-2, and you give those guys a chance, and they’ve got to get ahead in the count and they’ve got to make their pitches, and we missed — I watched, and we missed location by a lot today.”
The lack of consistency, Martinez said, is all about their inability to get ahead of hitters.
“For me the biggest thing is getting ahead of hitters,” he explained.
“When they fall behind, like I said, those guys are good hitters, and when you’re 2-0, 1-0, 3-1, 3-2, and they battle, you know, but you’ve got to get ahead.
“I mean, you’ve got to get ahead.”
While there was enough chatter out there for Maddon to be asked about his former bench coach’s future in D.C., it’s not the front office, at least publicly, that is placing the blame on Martinez.
In fact, in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week, Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ GM, took the blame for the roster that’s underperformed early this season.
“I acquire the players, I’m responsible for the players on the field,” Rizzo explained, “... so if they’re underperforming, they’re not performing, that’s on me. If the bullpen is not capable of performing, that’s on me. I take that very, very seriously.
“It’s the same context when we win 98, 97 games, these players are acquired by me, I’m responsible for them, and ultimately they have to perform.
“Now, the manager’s role is to manage the team, to manage the clubhouse, to manage 35 personalities, and to put them in the best position to succeed. I think Davey [Martinez] has great control of the clubhouse. I think the players play hard for him and I think that it’s very, very hard to make a critique about anybody with the amount of injuries that we’ve had this season and the importance of the players that we have had out of the lineup for extended periods of time.”
“[Rizzo] and I talk every day, a lot,” Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr earlier this week, when he was asked about the conversations they have about getting the bullpen straightened out.
“We talk about different scenarios. Like I said before, right now I believe in the guys we got down there. I know what they can do. I have seen all these guys have success. They just have to get consistent. That’s the biggest thing. They have to throw strikes and they have to get consistent. And I’m speaking as a whole. If we can get the ball to (Sean) Doolittle we are going to be in great shape.”
If the bullpen doesn’t improve, and the Nationals don’t start winning when/if the expected everyday roster is healthy again, will Martinez be on the hot seat at that point?