Davey Martinez experienced some WiFi issues on Wednesday afternoon, so he wasn’t able to meet with reporters via Zoom in advance of the planned season-opener yesterday, that, of course, didn’t end up happening due to concerns over the COVID issues the club’s now dealing with after multiple positive tests for as-yet unidentified players. Four other players and one staff member were forced to quarantine after coming in close contact with the player that tested positive, and two have now tested positive with a third likely though they were doing additional testing on the third before the season opening game with the New York Mets in Washington, D.C. was officially postponed.
Though the fourth-year skipper didn’t talk to reporters on Wednesday, but both GM Mike Rizzo and Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer did, so we collected some of the interesting stuff they said that did not make it into separate stories.
COVID YEAR TWO:
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the D.C. front office have had over a year now to learn how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and navigate protocols MLB has in place to try to keep everyone safe, and before these latest issues, they had managed to avoid having any positive tests this spring, but someone tested positive before they club flew home to D.C., so they had to take the necessary steps to quarantine and try to contain the spread.
Did the year-plus they’ve had to deal with this stuff now help them handle the situation the team is in now?
“Well, experience is always a good teacher,” Rizzo said.
“We went through this a little bit Opening Day last year,” he added, referring to pre-Opening Day issues they had last spring, and Juan Soto’s positive test before 2020’s season opener. “And we, again, MLB has done a great job throughout the season last year to get us through the season, and their assistance and their advocacy to helping us through this, is going to be very, very important. I think that the players knowing how to test and going through the testing process, I think helps leaps and bounds because it’s not the unknown anymore.
“We know how to test, we know what happens if there’s a positive, and we react quickly, swiftly, and within the protocols that have been tried and true through last season.”
Max Scherzer, the planned Opening Day starter, said his initial reaction to the news was, “... kind of ‘Oh, crap.’”
“We had done so well in Spring Training. Everybody across the game. We had seen so few positive cases across Spring Training as a whole.
“But it just shows you how quickly that can turn. It can turn on a dime. We have to face it and we have to overcome it.”
Last night the club announced two more positive tests and one likely positive that required further testing.
Bell Rings; Spring Stats Disappear:
Josh Bell, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates this winter after a down-year in his fifth year with the Bucs, went 18 for 47 (.383/.456/.872) with five doubles, six home runs, eight walks, and 14 Ks in 18 games this spring, in his first Grapefruit League run with an organization other than the Pirates.
Did he exceed expectations that even the general manager who traded for him had going into Spring Training?
“First of all, Spring Training means absolutely nothing to me,” Rizzo said sternly. “So, we like where he is. We like where his mechanics are. We like his bat speed. We like his work at first base. We like the player, that’s why we traded for him. But his batting average and his home runs in Spring Training, they go away starting [opening] night. But I do like the way he looks at the plate. I like his confidence and his swagger, not only at the plate, but in the field. And what he brings to the clubhouse has exceeded my expectations, I’ll put it that way.”
Having Bell at first, along with Ryan Zimmerman, gives the Nationals a good combo that will share the position in what will be Zimmerman’s 16th big league campaign (after he opted to sit out of last year’s 60-game season). Rizzo likes what he’s seen from both Bell and Zim.
“We thought that that would be a good complement,” Rizzo explained. “Zim is such a giving player, there’s no egos between the two, and I really think that they really kind of exemplify what a dual position should be. Zim realizes that JB is going to get most of the reps at first base.
“Zim knows his role and has really given Josh a lot of mentorship, especially defensively, and I think that they’ve got a really good working relationship.”
But, of course they’re getting along well, Rizzo added, “Who doesn’t get along with Zim anyways? Everybody does.”
It Stinks, And I Don’t Like It:
Max Scherzer didn’t pull any punches when he was asked about the experience of pitching in empty ballparks last season. He did. not. like. it.
“It really stinks,” the 36-year-old right-hander said. “I hate it. I wish we could have as many fans in there as possible. But I get it. It’s a pandemic. And you’ve got to just deal with it. Life is not fair, you’ve got to understand that and you’ve got to make the best of it. If you’re going to sit here and cry around about no fans, then you’re going to come up with some excuse for something else. For me, it’s about going out there and doing my job the best I can. I want to have fans in there as as much as anybody, but at the end of the day I can’t control that and all I can control is how I go out there and pitch.”
Scherzer reached the 200-inning plateau in six consecutive seasons between 2013-2018, before injury issues limited him to 172 1⁄3 IP in 2019, and he threw just 67 1⁄3 IP in 2020’s 60-game season. He talked this week about pitcher workloads in 2021, and how much he thinks he can throw this year after such a low total last season. Will he be able to get up to 200 IP?
“Knock on wood, no injuries, hopefully I’d be able to,” Scherzer said.
“I feel — veteran pitchers are in a little bit better spot to handle the inning jump than say younger pitchers. The younger pitchers — I’ll preface this and say, I’m a product of being protective over the innings. Making sure that you go from 140 to 170 to 200, and then that really establishes you as a young player to further your career and that shows a really good track record of being durable. So I’ve seen that and it’s worked for me, and I recommend it for every young pitcher there is. I see what happened in 2020 affecting more the young pitchers than I do the veteran pitchers.”