Davey Martinez managed to win a World Series in his second year as a big league skipper, after a 16-year playing career, and a second career as a big league coach, but the recently-turned 56-year-old manager is still learning on the job and in 2020 everything was new for everyone.
Martinez tried to navigate his way through a pandemic season in which his biggest concern was not when to go to the bullpen or how to set up his lineup, but trying to keep his players healthy and COVID-free while the virus spread across the country.
“My biggest thing to learn,” Martinez told reporters after his new long-term extension with the club was announced earlier this month, “is keeping guys as healthy as I could possibly keep them. I mean, that was one thing that coming into this I said, we want to try to limit as many injuries as possible, because as you see every day I pick up the paper and there was 2-3-4 guys getting hurt, and that’s kind of scary, knowing that you’ve got these guys, you want to make sure they’re healthy, you want to make sure that long-term they’re going to be okay. So I learned a lot with dealing with those kinds of things, with the training staff, and honestly, in preparing to get these guys better and stronger for the future.”
Once the 60-game pandemic campaign officially ended, with the Nationals tied for last in the NL East, a year after they won it all, Martinez said his first thought was that he was just happy that everyone remained relatively healthy.
There were injuries to stars like Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick, and Tanner Rainey, to name a few, but following the protocols, the club was able to avoid an outbreak.
“I’m really happy that no one has gotten real sick. I really am,” Martinez said after the season finale on Sunday.
“We talked about this before, about how MLB put unbelievable protocols [together], our players followed our own protocols, and we stayed healthy.
“That to me was definitely a plus this year. So, I’m going to go home and rest for a little bit and get ready to go. My job is never over, [GM] Mike [Rizzo’s] job is never over, we’ll meet in the next few days, talk about some different things and the we’ll be busy all winter trying to put together our team for 2021.”
Rizzo, who worked his way up from scout to scouting director, assistant GM, and eventually General Manager and President of Baseball Operations in the nation’s capital, signed a 3-year extension as well, and he said the final weekend of the regular season that he’s seen his manager grow in a number of ways since Martinez joined the organization in late 2017.
“His growth as a manager is to me — Davey’s strengths have increased as his experience level in the dugout has increased,” Rizzo explained.
“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.”
“You always want to improve,” Martinez said of the need to keep learning and adapting to the situations he finds himself in. “You never want to get [stale]. You want to keep getting better at what you do, and there’s always ways to do that. Every day — and I said it before, this year, to me, it was all about — as you know I’m very positive, but staying positive, staying patient, this is a tough year for players, for coaches, and I learned a lot about - I’m a very calm guy but this year really, some frustrating times where I had to take a step back and say, hey, be patient, this is tough, be patient, things will turn out okay.”
Rizzo said that Martinez’s performance in his first season on the bench was what convinced him that things would be okay going forward with the skipper.
“I thought he was good from Day 1. I’ve said this last year many times, you guys heard me, that 82-80 season we had in 2018 was probably the most leadership, and one of the most difficult jobs that 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.”
And what did the third-year manager take away from the 60-game 2020 campaign?
“I mean, the 60 games, as I told you yesterday, says a lot about coming into 2021 and how we want to start,” Martinez said.
“We had 60 games, it’s imperative that we need to get off to a quick start, so that’s going to be my message throughout this whole winter, is that guys need to be ready in Spring Training and be healthy and get ready to go because we need to come out of the gate really good next year, really quick. Because the games in March and April are just as important as the games in September.
“I don’t want to be 19-31 anymore,” the manager added, referring to the club’s record in the first 50 games of the 2019 season. “I want to be 31-19, or 31-10, whatever it may be. 19-31, it happened, it was there, but I don’t like that number.”
“I’ve got plenty of those t-shirts,” Rizzo said. “So we’re good with that, 19-31. We’re good with that.
“I think you learn something every day of this job.
“There are so many decisions that I have to make on a daily basis, some big, and many of them are very, very small, but they’re very, very important. I think that I learn something every day.
“When you stop learning you stop growing you might as well pack it up and quit, so I learn every day, I learn from Davey, I learn from the staff, I learn from the players, I learn from my front office guys. I’m trying to always evolve and to get better. This is a team effort, and just as I was the architect of the World Champions in 2019, I’m the President and General Manager of the last place Nationals this year, so that stings, and we’re going to do everything we can not to have that happen again. We’re a winning organization, we’ve got a bunch of winners over here, and our goal is to win again. Win again next year in 2021, that’s our primary focus and with the leadership in place now, we can move on to roster construction and preparation for the 2021 season, and hopefully it will be closer to a normal regular, major league season, but if not we need to adapt and adjust and make sure that this type of finish doesn’t happen again.”