Washington’s Nationals are well-positioned to take advantage of the rule change for MLB’s 60-game, 2020 campaign, (though maybe less so since Ryan Zimmerman decided to opt out), which brings the designated hitter to the National League, but that does not mean it’s something manager Davey Martinez likes.
“It will be weird,” Martinez said last week, when asked about having a DH in both leagues in this abbreviated season.
“I mean, I’ve played on both, obviously, National and American League,” the veteran of 16 major league seasons with Chicago’s Cubs, the Montreal Expos, the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Atlanta Braves.
“I had DHs, I had pitchers hitting, I actually hit in front of pitchers for a lot of years. So it might take away a little bit of the game, but then again, you add an extra hitter, and like I said, we’re in uncharted waters right now.”
Martinez noted that the Nationals’ roster actually has some pretty good-hitting pitchers, but they won’t be swinging the bats over the next two-plus months (provided MLB is able to pull off a season during an ongoing pandemic).
“I know I’ve got some pitchers, I always thought we had an advantage because our pitchers can hit a little bit, so that advantage is gone.”
Stephen Strasburg, who put up a .167/.200/.222 line with a double and a home run in 80 plate appearances last season, and who has a .152/.196/.200 career line at the plate, and one Silver Slugger award in his trophy case from his .277/.333/.426 season in 2012, didn’t seem all that upset about the decision to add the DH to the NL for the 2020 campaign.
Strasburg talked about it from the perspective of a pitcher when he was asked for his own thoughts on the rule change last week.
“It’s understandable and I think that really benefits our ballclub, it doesn’t change anything as far as how you treat each hitter, it’s just another one you’ve got to focus on.
“I would say that’s probably something Davey has got to consider in how he manages the bullpen and manages the game, but again, that’s on his plate, not mine.”
Martinez is comfortable with the additional items on his plate.
“I think our team is built to have a DH, which is kind of nice,” he explained.
“But it’s definitely going to be different, the strategy will be a little for me, because you don’t have to make those double switches and make those kind of moves of that nature.
“But it’s still going to be baseball. I think you’re going to see a little more hitting throughout baseball because you do get an extra hitter and get the DH. But we’ll see what happens. I’m a big fan of the National League and I like the whole strategic part of the game.”
He’s been around enough talented DHs in his career, Martinez said, that he knows what it takes to do the job well.
“All DHs are a little different, they prepare differently,” he said. “I played against a guy, and I played with him in Winter Ball, but I thought he was probably one of the best DHs, in Edgar Martinez. He was phenomenal.
“I mean, really. And the way he prepared himself between innings. He’d have a tee down there and he’d take a bunch of different swings.
“Stayed inside the baseball, did all kinds of stuff to keep himself ready. There are some guys who ride bikes to keep themselves loose, they hit a little bit, and there are some guys that I played with that actually just sit there and just watch the pitcher throughout the game until it’s his time up and he’s ready to go.
“They’re a different breed, that’s for sure. I mean, these guys are paid to hit. Papi [aka David Ortiz] is one of them. They’re paid to hit and they know what they want to do when they go up there and they hit. When you have a good one it’s a blessing.”
Howie Kendrick, who is currently quarantined and unable to participate in Spring Training 2.0 workouts, has a .263/.330/.411 line with five doubles and three home runs as a DH in his 106 career PAs in the role.
Eric Thames, who signed a 1-year/$4M deal with the Nationals this past winter, has a put up a solid .290/.364/.420 line with four doubles and a home run in 77 PAs as a DH.
The two are expected to share time at first base (after Zimmerman opted out), but they can also hit when they’re not penciled in to play the field.
“It helps tremendously,” Martinez said of the options his roster provides.
“I’m fortunate to have a couple guys who can DH. [Thames] being one of them, but it’s nice. Instead of him maybe not playing one game you can plop him in and let him DH.”
“We’ve got three or four guys that can actually DH for us,” he reiterated when he spoke with reporters on Sunday.
“We might keep a third catcher, and that puts [Kurt] Suzuki, when he doesn’t catch, in the mix to maybe DH as well.
“We’ll see how this all works out, but I think we’re going to be fine in that DH role.”
GM Mike Rizzo has, in the past, been clear about his disdain for the DH, and his wish to have the NL remain designated hitter-free, telling 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Grant Paulsen in 2015, “I hate the DH. I always have hated the DH. I’d hate to see the DH in the National League.”
But it’s here for the 2020 season, and the prevailing wisdom is both leagues will have it after MLB and the Players’ Association hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement in 2021, so it’s something the DH-opposed among us may have to get used to ... or quietly seethe about in years to come.