Did Davey Martinez and his club accomplish what they set out to accomplish this spring?
Washington’s fourth-year skipper told reporters after the Nationals wrapped up their 2021 Grapefruit League schedule on Monday afternoon, that it was, overall, a successful camp down in West Palm Beach, FL.
“Absolutely. We were diligent about what we wanted to do,” he explained. “The boys did it.
“The biggest key for us is to leave Spring Training healthy, and for the most part we did that.
“We got one guy in Will Harris, but we had great news about his outcome. So we expect to get him back soon, but everyone else is ready to go, so we’re excited about that.”
Harris, who was initially diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm only to have a specialist offer a contrary second opinion, returned to the club late and will start the season on the IL, but all things considered, things worked out well for the Nationals, health-wise, though Juan Soto (calf), and Starlin Castro (hamstring) both tweaked their legs late, and Tanner Rainey (a muscle strain near his collar bone) had to build up quickly after a late start to his spring.
The plan for Harris going forward?
“For me, he’s missed two and a half weeks,” Martinez said before Monday’s game. “So he’s going to have to rebuild again, and he says he feels good, but he knows that he’s got to throw, he’s got to get out there, we’ve got to treat it like he’s starting Spring Training again.”
Soto and Castro both got through workouts feeling good before departing for D.C.
“They look fine,” Martinez confirmed. “They came out of it feeling good. Like I said we’ll get them back on Wednesday and do the same thing. They’ll do regular baseball activity, and we’ll go from there. But they both look fine. I expect both of them to play on Thursday.”
Play? ... Or, you know, start? “They will be in the starting lineup,” Martinez assured reporters.
Rainey, whose first outing of the spring was, “definitely something to build on,” and not much more, as he said himself, finished strong with two strikeouts in a scoreless frame Monday afternoon.
“I looked at Rainey today, and his velo hit 95 [MPH], and I think come Thursday it will be even better than that because he feeds on that adrenaline,” Martinez said after the game.
The skipper’s big takeaways from Spring Training 2021?
“The biggest thing, because we have so many new faces, is how they were all going to all respond to one another. From Day 1, they clicked. Getting Josh Bell here, [Kyle] Schwarber here, [Jon] Lester, those guys all, Hernán Pérez, [Jordy] Mercer, all those guys, they’re all new, but they came in here with eyes wide open. They didn’t know what to expect, but they fit right in, so it’s great to leave here knowing that these guys all are pulling for each other, and pulling the rope in the same direction.”
Pérez and Mercer ended up on the Opening Day roster when the Nationals decided to send both Carter Kieboom and Luis García down to Triple-A to start the season (though they’ll be at the Alternate Training site in Fredericksburg, VA until the minor league schedule starts in May), and Martinez said Pérez, in particular, stood out for the baseball IQ on display in all of the positions he played.
“I’ll tell you, when I watch Hernán Pérez play, he really understands the game. I watch him out there in every position,” Martinez said.
“He moves guys around, he’s in the outfield, he’s talking to [Victor] Robles,” the manager continued, “... but he understands the game, he’s an unbelievable baserunner. If you watch him run the bases, he’s very intuitive how to take an extra base, when to take an extra base, all that stuff, so he’s been good. He sits there, I watch him in the dugout and he watches everything that goes on. It’s good to have a guy like that, because eventually he could help our younger guys.”
Bell, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates this winter, is another of the veterans added to the mix in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup, and coming off a down year in 2020’s 60-game campaign, it looked like he was in a good place in Spring Training, going 18 for 47 (.383/.456/.872) with a total of five doubles and six home runs in Grapefruit League action. How has he fit in? What is he like behind the scenes?
“He’s a quiet, bubbly guy,” Martinez said.
“He loves to have fun, but he’s quiet in a sense, but every now and then he’ll say something quirky and funny, and it’s good to see that he’s, like I said, he’s one of the boys here, and he opens up and he’s having a good time.”
The club flew home on Monday night, they got the day off yesterday, and they’ll work out in Nationals Park today before the opener tomorrow (Thursday) night at 7:09 PM ET on ESPN.
“We really can’t wait to get back to D.C.,” Martinez said before the flight home.
“The excitement lies within the fans. We’re going to get 5,000 fans [on Opening Day], we’re excited about that. The boys they put the time in this spring, and we look good. The boys look good.
“They’re excited, they’re ready to get back to D.C. and ready to get this thing going.”