Davey Martinez teased the fact that he might get more players back off of the COVID-IL for the series in St. Louis when he talked with reporters before the series finale in Los Angeles, and he learned he would for sure when he got off the plane following the flight to Missouri on Sunday night.
“I got the info last night when we got off the plane,” Martinez said in his pregame Zoom call with reporters from Busch Stadium, where the Washington Nationals started a three-game set with the Cardinals on Monday.
Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, and Kyle Schwarber, all of whom were expected to be in the club’s Opening Day lineup before the outbreak within the organization led to eleven players going into quarantine, returned to the lineup for the first of three with the Cards.
“I’m excited about it,” Martinez said. “We left Spring Training with these gentlemen, and now we get to get them back.
“Our lineup is intact, we’re just now missing one guy, [Jon] Lester, but I’m glad to get all three of these guys back.”
Bell and Schwarber talked on separate Zoom calls in advance of the opener with the Cardinals, and each of them expressed their excitement about finally starting their seasons a couple weeks later than planned.
“I’m definitely super-excited to be back,” Bell said, especially because he couldn’t watch his teammates over the first six games. “It was kind of tough for me because I was in one of the blackout zones, so I was just kind of listening to the games, but pretty cool to listen in.
“Obviously didn’t win as many games as we’d like to, but hopefully we can get started here in St. Louis.”
“I had a pit in my stomach that I missed Opening Day there in Nats Park,” Schwarber said, ‘‘... and missed the fans. But this is my Opening Day now. I got the butterflies.
“There wasn’t a lot of sleep. Getting into a hotel today, and just counting down the minutes until you can get on that first bus and come over to the ballpark, that was definitely in there.
“Going to have to be able to control your emotions today, because you know what, it’s going to be there, the excitement is going to be there, and got to be able to bring it back, and put your energy out the right way.”
Bell was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates this winter, while Schwarber, the now-former Chicago Cub, signed a free agent deal, and they were both expected to hit in the middle of the lineup, providing protection for Juan Soto and some much-needed pop.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Bell said of batting behind Soto and, hopefully, making opposing pitchers pay if they decide to walk the Nationals’ 22-year-old slugger and current No. 3 hitter, or let him get on.
“That’s what I was trying to do for [Andrew] McCutchen in PNC,” Bell added, “so hopefully I can do that here with the Nationals.”
“I still think that — I mean, this is going to be a potent offense,” Schwarber said. “And the way that we are going to be pitching the baseball and playing defense behind, I think it’s going to be a really good product out there on the field.
“And at the end of the day we have to go out and we have to execute. It is what it is. All the writing is there on paper. Now it’s on us to go out there and, you know what, fill the script.”
Obviously, both were itching to get back out on the field, so Martinez didn’t have to worry about whether or not to plug Bell, Schwarber, or Harrison in there right away.
“I talked to them this morning when they landed,” he said, “... and I asked them how they were doing, and without hesitation, all three of them said to put them in the lineup, that they’re ready to go. So, they’re in there today. I’m excited about it.”
“We’ll have to see, we’ll have to make sure we’re smart, but they’ll play tonight, and we’ll see how they feel after the game.”
Neither Bell or Schwarber was interested in discussing their experience (health-wise) while in quarantine, but they did talk about the work they did to stay sharp while they waited for clearance to return to the team.
“I have a couple of different things cardio-wise I was doing around the house,” Bell said.
“And then I have this... like wiffle ball pitching machine that I was able to set up in my place, so just to get some hand-eye coordination in, a little tracking in. So, body feels good, hand-eye coordination seems like it’s there.”
“Was able to get some weights delivered and also some physio balls and stuff like that, have a Peloton bike,” Schwarber said. “Also got a net and a tee delivered with some balls. So I was able to take a bunch of swings. Maybe some angry hacks in there. Just was able to keep the swing fresh, keep the same feelings that I wanted to feel and was locked into the games. I was grinding there with the boys every night. Even though I was at home, I was still grinding along with them.”
That wasn’t it for Schwarber though.
“The best thing was I actually had a set of VR goggles at home too that I could actually see some pitches coming at me from pitchers and things like that.
“That was was also another nice thing to have ... there, to just put those things on and take simulated at bats just without even a bat in your hand. Just sitting in there getting your stride and things like that. But off the tee that’s a big visual thing, you can visualize that heater coming, put the tee wherever you want it, but have your sights where that pitcher is and react to it.
“You can act like it’s an offspeed pitch, have your timing, put your foot down, hold it, go, things like that.”
Harrison didn’t talk to reporters upon returning, but Martinez said he got his work in too in quarantine, however he could.
“We got him some equipment,” the skipper said. “Was able to get him his bat, ball, glove, and stuff that he could work out, a bunch of balls.
“He told me he was hitting a little bit off the tee and emulating his swing, watching games, trying to work on his timing, but they’re all excited to be back.”
Asked if he was relieved to have this all pretty much behind them now, and happy that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, Martinez said, “Oh, it was bad. Don’t get me wrong.
“We missed quite a few guys. Even the guys that were on the contact tracing, for us it was bad. But I’m so glad that we’re able to get them back and we can put this behind us, like I said, once Lester comes back we can totally put this behind us, but to go out there and put a lineup together that I envisioned when we were leaving Spring Training, it feels good.
“Now we just got to go out there and play baseball, forget about this first week, and go out there and play baseball.”