Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this week that he was pleasantly surprised by what he saw from the Washington Nationals’ pitchers early in Spring Training 2.0, and he said it was a result of the hard work they all put in while baseball was shut down following the decision to end Spring Training 1.0 in mid-March.
Early in Spring Training 2.0, Martinez said, all the pitchers looked sharp, even after close to four months off before they all gathered back in the nation’s capital to prepare for the MLB season they’re all going to try to pull off amidst an ongoing pandemic.
“I’m very encouraged that they followed what we put together for them during the off-time,” Martinez said.
“They all followed it, they all threw, and they came in rip-raring to go and they came in in good shape and it makes everything a lot easier when nobody put on 15-20 lbs, and they were all in good shape. They look good so far like I said.”
“The big thing that at least I was worried about, is the fact that it wasn’t like a small break,” catcher Yan Gomes said when he spoke on a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday.
“It was a long enough break to where guys kind of cool off a little bit, but they stayed in shape and guys came in and they were ready to throw 2-3 innings right out of the gate.
“I think [Aníbal] Sánchez from the first outing, he already threw multiple innings, 3-4 innings, [Patrick] Corbin did the same, [Max] Scherzer, I think we expect it out of him.
“[Stephen Strasburg] and [Austin] Voth and those guys have done the same. So everyone is ready to go.
“Now it’s just a matter of ramping up to being ready to pitch a complete game.
“We’re not going to waste the first couple games of the year waiting for them to ramp up so they can get to 100 pitches. I think most of them are — if not [there], almost there, but we’re just playing it a little bit smart.”
The plan Martinez, pitching coach Paul Menhart, and the club’s strength and conditioning coaches put together apparently kept everyone sharp as they could be throwing in their backyards, at training facilities, or wherever they could find space as they self-quarantined and waited for baseball to start back up.
Menhart, who is returning for his second year guiding the pitchers after taking over in the role early last season, said yesterday that he wasn’t surprised by the work everyone put in before they gathered back together in Nationals Park.
“Dealing with this caliber of individuals,” the 51-year-old former major league pitcher with the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Padres explained, “... I was very confident knowing they were doing something, if not more than what they should have been doing.
“So it’s now just getting them used to being on their feet a little bit more with the length of our practices.
“Just making sure their body responds properly for what is going to be a not as long as a haul of a season, but is still a haul nonetheless.”
While the conditions might not have been ideal before they returned to Nationals Park, it didn’t stop anyone from getting their work in.
“There were some challenges with some individuals where they for whatever reason weren’t able to find somebody to play catch with, so they had to utilize a net,” Menhart said.
“They weren’t getting the proper feedback that they were hoping for, but they were keeping their bodies and their arms in shape. Getting out here, and actually seeing how that played out early on, it’s been very encouraging across the board.”
With the top four starters set, provided they stay healthy, with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, and Sánchez, the only real battle in Spring Training 2.0 has been for the fifth spot, with the two most likely candidates, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth, fighting it out to see who ends up in the rotation and who ends up in the bullpen. Menhart, however, hinted that there might be other arms in the mix, though Fedde and Voth pretty clearly have an edge.
“It’s been an open tryout thus far,” Menhart said, “... with Erick Fedde and Austin Voth and some other guys down in Fredericksburg too.
“It’s too soon to make any type of announcement. Both have been throwing great, both Voth and Fedde, so we’ll make that final decision when we need to.”
As for the top four starters, who return after helping the Nationals win the World Series last October?
“I’ve been very impressed with all of them,” the pitching coach said, “... because I know that when we left Spring Training, that they were anticipating a restart, and when it kept getting pushed back, they were smart about it.
“They didn’t overdo it, they didn’t under-do it, I would say they pretty much did if perfectly.
“They threw two pens a week. A few of them actually faced live hitters, so all four of them, I could not be more pleased with where they’re at.”
The next step, before July 23rd’s season opener with the New York Yankees in Nationals Park, is the progression from sim games to a few exhibitions, with the first this coming Saturday, when the Philadelphia Phillies come to Washington, D.C.
“I think everybody is excited about facing somebody else besides ourselves, so it’s going to be a nice test,” Menhart said. “I think there’s going to be a little bit more adrenaline involved in that whole process. Which is a great progression to getting ready for the regular season and facing the Yankees about a week away, so this is a nice progression that we’re going to be able to experience.”
With no fans in the stands, those who tune in will also likely be treated to maximum effort Max Scherzer grunting his way through the Philly lineup on Saturday.
“We all know how special Max is,” Menhart said
“And hearing him pitch is equally entertaining as watching him pitch. So it’s something for the fans to look forward to, being able to really hear it.”