Dress like American Tourists Flight:
The first pics we saw from the Washington Nationals’ flight from Philadelphia to Miami on Wednesday night came via Kyle Schwarber’s Twitter feed, with the home-run-crazy Nats’ outfielder sharing an image of the entire team gathered on the tarmac before they got on their plane. It’s an instant classic (with Trea Turner a standout in a pink flamingo romper):
Today was a good day #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/6YgXMC66Tk— Kyle Schwarber (@kschwarb12) June 23, 2021
So, what exactly was going on with the team-building, dress-up flight?
“We talked about it for a while,” Davey Martinez explained before the first of four with the Fish in Florida on Thursday night.
“I wanted to kind of do something headed to Miami, so I talked to some of the veteran guys about what we wanted to do, and came up with the Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Kind of a Bahama-style trip. Everybody dressed up and did well. We had a good time last night. Back to work today.”
Everyone (with the possible exception of Jordy Mercer who had a grounder bounce up and hit him in the lip, which split, and needed three stitches) was in a good mood after back-to-back wins in Citizens Bank Park gave the Nationals four straight and nine of their last ten, so it was a good time for some fun.
“For me, after every game, we want to relax and have fun. We had a good series in Philly,” the fourth-year skipper said, “it was a good start to our road trip, but they understand that today we play the Marlins, they’re a pretty talented team, pretty good team, their starting pitching is really good, so we got to come ready to play today.”
It’s a small thing, but another sign of things returning to normal after all these months with the COVID pandemic, social distancing, and the protocols that were in place all last season and at the beginning of the 2021 campaign affecting how teams traveled.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Martinez said of getting back to some of the fun they used to have. “When we can get together and do things as a group, we have a good time. It’s always been talked about here, with the veteran guys, especially after not being able to do anything last year, if we were going to get back to doing what we do, and it takes time. We’ve been through this whole pandemic, and we’ve got to be smart about it, but yesterday was the perfect opportunity to dress up, get the guys together, and get on a flight after a great win and have a good flight and get to Miami and get ready to go again.”
The Washington Nationals are...— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 24, 2021
Davey Martinez was adamant as Josh Bell struggled out of the gate, that the switch-hitting first baseman would sort things out, and he stuck with him, backing up his belief in the 28-year-old first baseman with action by continuing to run him out there.
Bell, acquired in a trade with the Pirates this past winter, was 11 for 83 (.133/.198/.289) with four doubles, three homers, six walks, and 28 Ks in 23 games and 91 plate appearances to start the season, but he started to turn things around in mid-May, and going into the first game of four with the Marlins in Miami on Thursday, he was 34 for 115, for a .298/.360/.544, line, with seven doubles, seven home runs, 11 walks, and 26 Ks in 35 games and 125 PAs going back to May 13th.
Did he need to keep playing, and have the show of faith from his manager to finally get it going with this new team?
“I definitely believe that,” Martinez said on Thursday afternoon from Miami. “Here’s a guy that’s hit fourth in his career a lot, and was very successful doing it, so when he comes to a new team, we want him to get comfortable. And obviously, you know, when we left Spring Training, he was swinging the bat better than anybody that we had, he really was, he was having an unbelievable Spring Training, and then the pandemic hit him, COVID hit him, and he got slowed down. I wanted to make sure that he understood that I had all the confidence in the world in him, and I know that he was going to get out of the little funk that he was in and he did. And now that we’re in the middle of the season, he’s helping us win ballgames, and he’s playing really well. The one thing I’ve always told, I said, regardless of whether you’re getting hits or not, you’ve got to play defense every day. The minute your defense goes south, that becomes a bigger issue. So and he took pride in that. He worked every day diligently with [Bench and infield coach Tim Bogar] on his defense, wanting to get better. I’ve never seen him slack off on his defense. And that meant a lot to me.
“To watch him go out there and continue to work knowing that he had his struggles, and every day I kept telling him we’ll look back on this at the end of the year, and say, ‘Hey, what a great year. You put that behind you and you grew from it, you understood and hopefully now when you do get in another fun you know how to get out of it really quick.”
Unfortunately, Bell, who said he was looking forward to getting at bats against the righties lined up for the Miami Marlins this weekend, was a late scratch before the series opener in Marlins Park.
“He came in today and his right side was bothering him,” Martinez explained after the 7-3 win in the series opener. “So, I didn’t want to take any chances.
“He’s going to go get an MRI tomorrow. I talked to him a little while ago, he said he doesn’t feel anything right now, but we want to get him an MRI and see what’s going on.”
Daniel Hudson has been on the IL with right elbow inflammation since June 12th (retroactive to 6/10). There haven’t been many updates since, but the Nationals’ manager did talk about the veteran reliever before the series opener in Miami on Thursday afternoon, when he was asked for updates on both Hudson and Stephen Strasburg (nerve irritation in neck).
“Stephen still has a ways to go,” Martinez said, “but he’s throwing the ball a little better. He’s playing long-toss at about 150 feet. Good intensity. I know Huddy threw the ball the other day and actually threw the ball fairly well I thought, and we’ll see how he feels today. He’s going to go out and throw again today and we’ll see how he feels after today, and hopefully he’ll be a lot sooner than Stephen will be to get on the mound. They’re both progressing well, so we’ll see how quickly we can get them back.”
What signs has he seen to determine that they’re progressing well?
“We still got to build them up and a lot of work to be done for both of them,” Martinez told reporters.
“Like I said, we’ve got to be really careful with Huddy because of his past injuries, so we want to make sure that when he does get on the mound that he’s ready to. Same thing with Stephen, we don’t want this to be a recurring thing for him so in the event he’s ready to get on the mound, we want to make sure that he’s completely healthy and ready to go.”
The next step for Hudson as he works his way back?
“His next steps, obviously, will be to get on the mound and throw, but he’s still got to build up, and like I said earlier, because of his past history with his arm, we wanted to make sure that his strength is there, the swelling is gone, and we can get him healthy as quickly as possible, but yet be smart about it.”
Even if it is a “smart” approach to getting him back, that doesn’t mean Hudson likes it.
“Believe me, he’s frustrated, he’s biting at the bit, he wants to get back, but like I told him, I said, ‘Hey, we want you back fully healthy, so if it takes a little bit longer than it should, we’ll take the time and get you right.’”