How much, if at all, are the Washington Nationals going to change things up in terms of their pitchers’ preparation for the 2020 campaign after the returning arms went deep in October on the way to the Nats’ World Series win this past Fall?
“We’re going to prepare for Spring Training like we have every other year,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“We’re not going to be complacent because we played an extra month of baseball. We’re not going to make any adjustments for preparations for our pitchers. We’re beginning right now our offseason preparation for Spring Training, and we’re not going to veer off of what we’ve done in the past.”
The returning veterans didn’t seem too concerned when they talked about adjusting their offseason regimens following a longer-than-usual 2019 campaign.
“I’ve been in the playoffs before,” Max Scherzer told reporters at WinterFest in the nation’s capital last month.
“I’ve been in the World Series before, and I know how to take care of myself, more so than ever now, and I feel good about going into 2020 and pitching well.”
“I think you need to keep working and you need to prepare your body to get ready for Spring Training and do everything normal as soon as your body is ready,” Aníbal Sánchez said.
Stephen Strasburg, who tested the free agent market before returning on a 7-year/$245M deal, told reporters that he tweaked some things this winter, but most of the work he’ll do will take place in West Palm Beach, FL.
“A lot of the adjustments that need to be addressed [are] going to be [addressed] through Spring Training, and managing the workload, building up, but my goal is to be ready to do what’s asked of me, much like I did last year, so I’m preparing for that.”
“There’s no reason for concern,” Rizzo added, noting that everyone came through the World Series in good shape. “Exit physicals were great, everyone came through physically fine, and we’re going to prepare for Spring Training in 2020 the way that we have since 2009 when I took over. We’re going to be full go and ready to go on Opening Day and we’re not going to do anything tricky or special to prepare ourselves just because we pitched and played an extra month.
“We’ll certainly be cognizant of each individual pitcher,” the GM continued, “but as for a plan, [Pitching Coach] Paul Menhart and myself are going through the actual day-to-day at this meeting and we will have a plan for them, but our philosophy is to go through it, and go after it like we always have.”
“What’s happening is — it’s such a unique situation,” Menhart explained in January, “because you only have three months off, and now I’ve talked to everybody, basically everybody, about how they’re feeling and whatnot, and they all feel great. They all took enough time off and they’re on schedule to be ready to go in Spring Training. Our hope is to get out of the chute a little bit in better shape when the clock starts, Game 1, so that they’re not necessarily in midseason form, but pretty darn close to it.”
Davey Martinez too said he didn’t think things would be all that different, when the manager spoke in advance of his third season on the bench in D.C.
“We talked a little bit about pushing their program back a few weeks and not start throwing. I know some of these guys like to start to throw in December, maybe wait until second week of January. But I want them to understand that [there are] a lot of games to be played in March and April, and we’ve got to be ready to play those games, so they’ve got to be ready to open up and give us the innings we need.”
Scherzer, Sánchez, Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin are lined up as the top four in what should be a potent rotation, with the Nationals looking to fill the fifth spot from within with the likes of Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth expected to compete for the job this Spring.
“We’ve got ourselves a good rotation, when they’re healthy they’re as good as anybody,” as Rizzo put it.
Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes are back behind the plate, after handling the bulk of the catching duties in D.C. in 2019.
Suzuki said this winter that as soon as the season wrapped up and they celebrated their win in the Fall Classic, they started to turn the page, and they’ll officially turn it this week.
“I think once Spring Training starts it’s a whole new season,” Suzuki said. “What happened in winning the World Series was unbelievable, and when Spring Training starts it’s time to get back to work. It starts then. Our journey starts then to try to do what we did last year, to do it again. I don’t think guys will rest on their laurels. I think it’s time to get back to work. We know what we have to do. I think having a bunch of veterans in the clubhouse too helps, because guys are professionals, they know how to take care of business, so I think it’s going to be business as usual.”
Gomes, who returned to the Nationals on a 2-year/$10M deal after the club declined a club option that would have paid him $9M in 2020, struggled out of the gate offensively in 2019, but Hitting Coach Kevin Long said he liked what he saw from the veteran backstop late this past season.
Gomes hit five of his 16 doubles and six of 12 home runs over the final month of the regular season, when he was pressed into daily action for a stretch by a Suzuki injury.
“Getting traded, figuring out a new team, there’s an adjustment period. Maybe it took him a little bit longer, but I know the second half he did a nice job and he helped our offense, and he got some big hits when we needed him,” Long said.
Will Suzuki’s late-career resurgence at the plate continue? Will Gomes pick it up at the plate in his second season with the Nationals? Will one of the starters competing for the fifth spot fill out the rotation this season, or, more likely, will all three and more contribute to the fight over the course of the campaign?
Will the long 2019 run adversely affect any of the starting pitchers or relievers? Will the Nationals’ revamped bullpen be a significant improvement over last season’s relief corps?
It all starts today. Pitchers and catchers report this morning. Baseball is back... sort of. But not really.