Davey Martinez, in his first year as a manager at any level, got 2018’s Washington Nationals to an 82-80 record, and in the process convinced Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo he had what it takes to bring a World Series title to the nation’s capital (which Martinez did in his second year on the bench in D.C. in 2019).
“I’ve said this last year many times, you guys heard me,” Rizzo told reporters on a Zoom call announcing Martinez’s multi-year extension last month.
“That 82-80 season we had in 2018 was probably the most leadership, and one of the most difficult jobs any manager we’ve had here had to do.
“The record may not have been sterling, but to get us to 82-80 that season showed me that this guy is ready for stardom in the managerial ranks.”
“It was a grind in ‘18,” Martinez acknowledged late this past season.
“But I really felt like no matter what the outcome is, that these guys were going to play hard until the last day of the season, which they did, for us to come out 82-80, I thought that was pretty successful, even though we didn’t get anywhere.
“And I thought at the end of that season, with the core guys that we had then, coming into 2019, this is going to be something special.”
They did do something special in 2019, of course, winning the first World Series by a D.C.-based team since 1924, though the follow-up in 2020 didn’t go the way they planned.
“We didn’t start off the way we wanted to [in 2019], but I never gave up hope as you guys know,” Martinez, (whose “Stay in the fight!” and, “Go 1-0 every day!” mantras were actually embraced by the club), said.
“We kept pushing and we kept grinding, I didn’t let these guys quit, and they didn’t, and we ended up being champions.”
“With that being said, I think this year for me we didn’t get it done, we had a lot of bumps on the road this year, but I really fully believe, and I talked to you guys about this, we’ve got the core guys we need to win another championship.”
The Nationals went 26-34 in the 60-game COVID campaign in 2020, and after he signed his long-term extension last month, Martinez said he knows there is a lot of work ahead of both him and Rizzo as they try to reset things for 2021 and beyond.
“I know Mike and myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys that we think can potentially help us in the future,” the manager explained.
“And we’ll be back, we’ll be back on the podium, I’m really confident about that.”
Rizzo, who gave Martinez his first opportunity as a big league manager, was asked how he’s seen the Nationals’ skipper develop on the bench during their three years together.
“His growth as a manager is to me — Davey’s strengths have increased as his experience level in the dugout has increased,” the GM said.
“Between the lines is probably, in my opinion, the least impactful part of Davey’s job.
“Davey does — mostly the groundwork for each and every game is done before we get out to the field, and I think that he hit the ground running from Day 1 in that aspect. As far as clubhouse chemistry, getting guys prepared to play, doing the advance work and having the advance meetings, and that type of thing, when we hit the field and we get between the lines, these players are prepared 100% to play each and every day. He maximizes their chances of success and minimizes the chances for failure by the lineups he puts in and the people that we have on the roster. I think that you can see growth in how his in-game handling of the bullpen has happened. We had a strategy employed last season when we had an underperforming bullpen through much of the season and when we got towards the end of the season we kind of flipped our strategy to utilize our best pitchers against the best hitters on the opposing team and took that through the month of September and through the month of October.
“So his adaptation on the fly if you will was something that I saw great growth last year and continued on into a very troublesome, trying season this year.”
“Mike touched on it,” Martinez said of the game plan they implemented with their starters as they headed towards a potential postseason berth in 2019.
“In August, I had to change the way our starting pitchers were going to get ready before the games because I knew that if we were going to go far and we were going to play in the postseason, I had to use these guys to pitch out of the bullpen, so this is something that was discussed with Mike [beforehand], and he just said, ‘Do what you need to do.’ And it was a discussion that I had with every starting pitcher before we even went into this and they bought in, and it worked out, so that’s kind of my style of play. I utilize everybody, as you know, I try to put them in situations where they’re going to succeed. I think the more the succeed, you build the confidence up, and you get a lot out of them.
“With that being said there’s a lot of players that come through here that are new, and we sit in my office and we talk all the time about how we do things, and how they love playing here, they love the teammates here, and there’s continuity in that group that no one is selfish and everybody is playing for one another, and I love to hear those things.”
While Rizzo said that the job Martinez did in 2018 proved to him the manager was headed for stardom in the managerial ranks, the skipper said he was confident in his own abilities from the start.
“For me, honestly, it all started in 2018 when I took the job. I knew what I was getting into,” Martinez said.
“I worked for Joe Maddon for many, many years. He taught me a lot about the game and about managing and about dealing with people. And with that being said, I took what I learned from him and I took what I learned from other managers, and I created an identity for myself on what I wanted to do and what I wanted to [be perceived] as being a manager.
“It’s not an easy job, as we all know, but I love, like I’m passionate about what I do, and I love coming to the ballpark, and for me, this is my home here, and every time I step on the field, I feel that’s my happy place, regardless of what happens. And I’m ready to do it again every single day.”
“Watching Davey,” recently-hired Nationals’ pitching coach Jim Hickey said in a Zoom call last week, when asked about the growth he’s seen in Martinez from the time they spent in Tampa Bay together until now, “I believe 2008 was our first year together with Tampa Bay and just watching him go from almost a guest in Spring Training to a really, really good bench coach to winning the World Series in Chicago and to winning it on his own, especially after the start to that season, holding that together, I think that’s probably the most impressive thing that I’ve seen him do as far as being in the manager’s seat anyway.”