When they spoke to reporters in December, both GM Mike Rizzo and Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez were optimistic that come mid-February Spring Training would start and they could begin building up for the 2021 season after a disappointing follow-up to 2019 and the club’s World Series win in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign.
“We’re planning for on-time Spring Training, February 17th, I believe it is this year,” Rizzo said at the time, “... and a 162-game major league schedule, so that’s our plan as of December 15th, and that’s how we’re going to construct our Spring Training, and construct our roster, and that’s how we’re moving forward.”
“They have said prepare to be ready February 17th and that’s what we’re preparing for,” the Nats’ skipper added in his own Zoom call that day. “I am very optimistic that we’re going to get there, and that’s what we’re shooting for.
“I know MLB is doing their due diligence, talking to some unbelievable medical people. They’re trying to keep us all safe and keep this thing going.”
“We went through a season in 2020,” Martinez added, “where nobody thought we were going to make it, it started off rough, and we saw two teams play in a World Series, so I thought that was pretty awesome that they were able to get that far and do it, so let’s continue to build on that.”
The Nationals ended up 24-36 last season, good for a 4th place finish (tied) in the NL East, but as their manager put it, getting through the season relatively healthy (at least in COVID terms) was something the entire organization was proud of accomplishing.
“We went through something that no one predicted we’d ever go through,” Martinez said.
“Now we’ve got a chance to regroup and get ready for another championship season, so I tell the players, I said, our core guys are really good, they’re excited, so we just got to get past this next couple months, and like I said before, I’m very optimistic that we’re going to start February 17th, Spring Training, pitchers and catchers, and we’ll go from there.”
Disappointing as last season was, the Nationals, and their manager, still want to keep in mind what they accomplished together the previous year.
“No one will ever take away what we did in 2019, regardless of what happened in 2020, but with that being said, our goal is to do it again in 2021.”
Having been through what they went through in 2020, Martinez said, one key takeaway was that they know to expect the unexpected, with the confidence that they’ll be able to adjust, whatever they have to deal with as they did last season.
“You know, obviously we can’t predict what will happen in the future,” Martinez explained, “but I try to tell the players, ‘Hey, the best thing we can do is stay positive.’ And hopefully we’re back as scheduled and we’re playing in Spring Training mid-February, but we have to prepare for that.
“I talk to the coaches once a week and we’re trying to get Spring Training ready, our days ready.
“We’re on Zoom, and we’re just getting ready for when that day comes. And until then we’re going to continue to prepare and then if it does move, we’ll prepare for the next phase.
“One thing I learned about in 2020, is that you’ve just got to just stay focused and control the controllables. That’s all we can do. Hopefully, like I said, one thing I can tell you is that I know MLB is doing the best they can to keep us all healthy. They did last year, so they’re going to look out for all of us, and even the fans as well, but I hope that with everything going on we can get back on the field as soon as possible.
“Like I said, February 17th for me is the goal, and we’ll be ready for that day.”
Before many of the moves they made to fill holes on the big league roster, Martinez was, as always, positive about what the future held, and the pieces they already had in place back in December to try to bounce back from last year’s struggles and win another World Series with the core of the roster in place in the nation’s capital.
“It’s funny. Everybody talks about this window, this window, you know, but this day and age you play 162 games and anything can happen in a regular season,” he said, “so we’ve got a lot of veteran pitchers, we’ve got a lot of guys that really believe we can win again, which is really nice, including myself, so we’ve got [Max] Scherzer, we’ve got [Stephen] Strasburg, who’s healthy, we’ve got [Patrick] Corbin, we’ve got some of our young pitchers that I think it’s time for them to actually make that next jump.
“You see glimpses of them being really, really successful, so I think a couple of those guys are going to be really good for us this year.
“You’ve got the Juan Sotos, you’ve got the [Trea Turners]. We got Carter [Kieboom], who I really believe is going to help us this year with his bat, so I really think we fill in the pieces, we got a chance to compete. This division ain’t easy, I can tell you that. It’s tough.
“But we’re going to put a product on the field, I know that, talking to [Rizzo] and ownership where we feel like we can compete and we want to win. We want to win in 2021.”
Rizzo talked after the Nationals acquired Josh Bell from the Pirates in late December, about the kind of roster he was hoping to assemble, before he added Kyle Schwarber to the mix, along with Alex Avila, and then signed pitchers Brad Hand and Jon Lester to bolster the pen and rotation, respectively.
“We like where the lineup is,” Rizzo said after the addition of Bell, “... and we think that we’ll have enough thump to play long ball, but we’ll also have the ability to manufacture some runs and I think that’s kind of the mantra we’ve had for our success.
“We’re a team that can score in multiple different ways. We can steal you a base, we can steal a run, we can hit it over the wall. We like to have a well-rounded offense so we don’t have to rely on one factor, so I think that’s the type of lineup that we’re going to try to put together for ‘21.”