Davey Martinez talks often about his routine of going home — once he finally leaves the ballpark every day — and re-watching games each night during the season.
Following his fifth campaign on the bench in Washington, D.C., which the Nationals finished at 55-107, the bench boss spent some time looking back to assess what did and didn’t work for a club which struggled throughout the 2022 season, but in his mind showed signs of improvement over the final months of their 162-game run.
“Yeah. You know what, I liked what I saw towards the end. Our defense was better,” the Nats’ skipper told reporters when he spoke at the Winter Meetings earlier this month.
“Our hitting, our young hitters got a little bit better. We talked a lot about the chase rate.
“And the three guys that we really worked with, they did improve a lot. So we’re hoping that we improve that a little bit more.”
Martinez said he had a message for all of his young, returning players: Losing 105 games, is, of course, unacceptable, and not the sort of thing they should get used to because it will be different in the near future if things go to plan.
“I want — what I want them to come to Spring Training knowing is that everybody starts fresh, right?” Martinez explained.
“We’re young, but we can compete. I don’t want them to think that, hey, we’re rebuilding.
“No, we’re here to compete, and we’re trying to win as many games as possible, and that’s going to be the message.
“I’ve sent that message at the end of the season, and I want them to understand that, hey, losing 100 games is not acceptable. It’s not. We’re going to get better. So I want them to come to Spring Training knowing we’re going to compete and compete to win every day.”
Asked about the pitching in particular, and what he saw from the Nats’ pitchers as a group, after the team finished with the second-highest combined ERA (5.00) in the big leagues last season, in his assessment, Martinez said, it wasn’t all on the pitching staff.
“One, it had a lot to do with our defense early. It really did,” Martinez said.
“I think we improved once we got CJ [Abrams] playing shortstop to move Luis [Garcìa] over to second base, and [Ildemaro] Vargas did a great job for us at third base. … we’ve got Jeimer [Candelario], who’s right now — in-between him and Carter [Kieboom], who’s going to play third base. So we’re definitely going to get better.
“We definitely need more depth out of our pitching. We need guys to go a little deeper in games. Our bullpen, I think, was a big strength of ours last year, but I can’t do that to them this year where they cover so many innings. We’ve definitely got to improve in our starting pitching.”
Keibert Ruiz, the catcher described by GM Mike Rizzo as the “main cog” in the return the Nationals received from the Dodgers in the trade deadline deal which sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA in ‘21, played in 104 games last season before a testicular contusion in September took him out of action for the final weeks of the 2022 campaign.
Catcher Riley Adams, who was acquired from Toronto’s Blue Jays for Brad Hand at the 2021 trade deadline, played the second-most games for the Nats (44) in ‘22, though he was optioned to Triple-A at one point to get reps (and work at first base). Tres Barrera played 14 games, and catching prospect Israel Pineda played four. So, will the Nationals go with their young and relatively unproven options as backups to Ruiz in 2023, or sign a veteran to back their No. 1 catcher up?
“I think we’re going to compete — I think in-house we have the backup catcher,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the 2022 Winter Meetings earlier this month.
“There’s going to be a competition,” he added.
“That’s not going to rule out — we may do something in the offseason to obtain another candidate for a backup catcher.”
Stone Garrett Talk:
While the club’s brass was gathered in San Diego for the Winter Meetings, the Nationals announced a deal with 27-year-old outfielder Stone Garrett, who, “... hit .276 with eight doubles, four homers, 10 RBI[s], three walks, three stolen bases, and 13 runs scored in 27 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2022 after making his Major League debut on August 17 against San Francisco,” as the club noted in a press release on the deal.
Garrett, who was a 2014 8th Round pick by the Miami Marlins, signed on with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent in 2021, and put up a .276/.309/.539 line over the last two-plus months of the ‘22 season.
Where does he fit in with the Nats, and why did he make sense as a signing for 2023?
“We liked his skill-set,” Rizzo said.
“[Director of Player Development] De Jon [Watson] loved the make-up, and we just think that he brings a — he’s an option-able player that’s going to compete for at-bats at the big league level. We see a guy that has some power, that’s kind of refining his game, but we will — we’re going to allot him some time to improve his craft either at the big league level or at the minor league level.”