Mike Rizzo on State of the Nationals:
“I look at this season as a disappointment,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said in a season-in-review-type interview with reporters in Citi Field, where the club started its final series of the 2022 campaign yesterday.
Going into the three-game set with the New York Mets, the Nationals were 55-104 (55-106 after back-to-back losses in the doubleheader), and all of the losses have not been easy to deal with, but Rizzo was realistic about where the team is as the season winds down.
“I’ve always said that you are what your record says you are, and our record says we’re the worst team in the league right now,” Rizzo acknowledged, “and it’s hard to argue with that.
“But the flip side of that is we are in a process,” he explained, “... and the process is tried and true, we’ve done it before, not a lot of teams can say that, and the process is moving forward, and it’s ongoing, and I think it’s a productive process.”
And as Rizzo said, he’s happy with the progress they have made as an organization, and he is especially pleased since they believe they jumpstarted the process adding five high-end, and highly regarded, young prospects in the deadline deal which sent both Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres.
“I think after this trade deadline I think it accelerated our process a little bit,” Rizzo said. “We added a lot of talent to our system, and I think you can kind of see the aftermath of where our system was pre- and post-trade deadline, and I think that we’re excited about what’s to come in the future, and I think the blueprint to win in a timely fashion is in place, and we’re excited about it.”
As he goes into the offseason, the Nationals will have their annual “autopsy” as they refer to it, and then they’ll see what they can do to build a competitive roster for the ‘23 campaign.
“We’re going to attack it,” Rizzo told reporters. “First of all we’re going to do an autopsy of the organization after the season to see where we’re at. We’ll have a discussion with ownership to see where our parameters are, but suffice it to say we’re not comfortable with losing 100+ games, and that’s something we want to avoid again in the near future, and we’re going to put together an offseason that we’re going to be aggressively attacking the free agent market, the trade market, the international market, and any other market that helps us acquire impactful players that helps us get better sooner.”
At this point, Rizzo said, he is happy with the progress they’ve made thus far, since kicking off the reboot at the trade deadline in late July of 2021.
“I think our system is different right now than it was a year ago,” Rizzo said.
“I think it’s deeper. We’ve had two, what I believe are, successful trade deadline acquisition periods, we’ve had two successful drafts, we’ve done a good job in the international market.
“I think that our prospect depth is as good as it’s ever been here in the organization, and I think that the upside of our prospect list is probably the highest it’s ever been.”
His positive thoughts about the progress they’ve made don’t make what they have all gone through this season any easier to take.
“It’s always frustrating to lose,” Rizzo said. “It was never good. It wasn’t fun in ‘09, ‘10, or ‘11 for me. It’s not fun now, but what keeps me going is seeing what’s on the horizon, putting our plan in place and sticking to it. It’s the most important part of what we’re doing right now. We have to believe in the blueprint, and stick to the plan, and to have the support from above us to do that has been huge, and I think that it’s something that the fanbase has embraced, and I think they trust the process, because they’ve seen it before.”
CJ Abrams Turns 22:
Washington Nationals’ shortstop CJ Abrams turned 22 years old on Monday, celebrating his birthday on a rainy day in Flushing, Queens, NY, which saw the opener of the final series of the 2022 regular season postponed. Abrams and his teammates didn’t get to play the Mets, but before the scheduled matchup his manager talked about the growth he’s seen from the infielder over the month and a half he’s been with the club following the trade from the San Diego Padres at the August 2nd deadline (and a short stint at Triple-A Rochester).
A 1 for 3 game in the finale with the Phillies on Sunday left Abrams with a .260/.279/.331 line, seven doubles, two triples, a walk, and 22 strikeouts over 42 games played and 152 plate appearances since he got called up by the Nationals on August 15th.
“He’s got those good baseball instincts,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked to assess Abrams’ time with the Nationals this season.
“He’s showed a lot of maturity. He’s learned a lot, and showed how mature he is to absorb information and use it. He’s just scratching the surface right now. We really believe this kid has a bright future with this organization and with us, and hopefully he continues to grow.”
There is plenty of room for growth, of course, with the young shortstop, but there are also plenty of reasons for the Nationals to be excited about the early returns from one of the six players the team acquired from the Padres for Juan Soto and Josh Bell.
Martinez said there are reminders at times just how young Abrams really is at this point.
“The conversation that I had with him earlier makes me feel like he’s still young,” Martinez joked, though he didn’t offer details of the conversation.
“His babyface, I mean, and he understands he’s still got a lot to learn, but like I’ve said, he’s been a bright spot for us since he’s been here.”
Abrams has, however, committed five errors in his last eight games, and 11 since he joined the club in mid-August.
What’s behind the string of throwing errors in recent games?
“He’s dropping his arm a little bit when he throws the ball,” Martinez said.
“But he’s got to get ready a little earlier. Like I said, the weather hasn’t been great, the field’s been a little muddy, so that’s a bit of a concern.
“But in the course of a year, you’re going to have to learn how to play in these kind of conditions, especially in April, when it’s like this almost every day.
“So it’s something he has to get used to.”
Riley Adams’ Opportunity:
Coming out of the four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, Riley Adams had started in 14 of 21 games for the Nationals since the No. 1 backstop in the nation’s capital, Keibert Ruiz was shut down for the season with an injury.
Adams, who turned 26 years old in June, was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline in 2021. He debuted in the big leagues with the Blue Jays last season, and played 35 games with the Nationals following the deal. He started the 2022 campaign in the majors, but was sent to Triple-A in late June with Ruiz getting the majority of the starts for the big league club.
Called back up at the end of August, Adams was pressed into regular duty in the aftermath of Ruiz’s injury, and he has had an opportunity to play regularly over the weeks since early September.
“I’ve seen him handle pitchers very, very well,” manager Davey Martinez said on Monday afternoon in Citi Field, when he was asked how he’s seen the backstop develop since he was acquired from the Jays. “I still want him to work on his throwing with Henry [Blanco], especially his transfer. A lot of times he gets the ball and he can’t get a grip on the ball, so he has to work on that, and be more consistent with his hitting. I mean, we got to get him consistent, because when he hits the ball hard it comes off the bat hot, so if we can get him to be consistent, I’m not saying that he’s going to hit .280/.290, but there is power in there, and if he can put the ball in play we might see a lot more of that power.”
In 82 games and 242 plate appearances for the Nationals in the last two seasons, Adams has put up a combined .205/.310/.348 line with 10 doubles and six home runs.
Defensively, Adams threw out 3 of 19 would-be base-stealers (16% CS%) in 2021, and so far this season, he had thrown out 5 of 37 (14% CS%) going into yesterday’s doubleheader. He had a combined .995 fld% in two big league seasons, including his time with the Jays.
Martinez talked on Monday about what he wanted to see and what he has seen from the catcher thus far in his time with the Nationals, including this latest stretch with Adams in the lineup for the club most days.
“I want to see him because he’s a guy that’s going to be a big part of our future as well,” the fifth-year skipper said. “Case in point, if Keibert gets hurt, [Adams is] going to have to catch the bulk of the games. So he’s getting a lot of experience catching every day, physically he’s handled it really well, and like I said, behind the plate, I talk to the pitchers, and they love throwing to him, which is good, and they say that he calls a very good game, so and now the rest of the things, the little things, like I said, about taking his walks, not expanding the strike zone, putting the ball in play more. Doing the little situational things, yesterday I gave him a task of trying to bunt. He fouled the ball off and we let him hit. But you know I want him to learn that, ‘Hey, in those situations, getting a bunt down could be huge.
“Especially with the weather and everything that was going on, so those little things like that we need him to get better at.”