Luis García - Shortstop:
As we noted in the first news & notes post of the Spring yesterday, we were surprised a bit by Davey Martinez’s talk of Luis García focusing on playing short this spring, after he spent the majority of his time (in the majors after coming up as a shortstop) playing second base in D.C. He’ll get reps at both spots, but as the Washington Nationals’ skipper explained it, “We got [Alcides] Escobar over there [at short], we got César [Hernández] at second [base], so I want [García] to really focus on playing some shortstop, and then we’ll see how he does.”
We were surprised, we noted, because his assessment of García’s limited work at short in the majors late last August was less than glowing, with the manager talking about Garcia’s arm being a bit erratic, his arm angle also changing periodically, the infielder not finishing throws, not following through to his target, not moving his feet, etc. So, in Monday’s Zoom call with the skipper in the nation’s capital, we asked if those were things he tasked García with working on this winter, or if they were areas he still needs to improve and work on this spring?
“I talked to [bench and infield coach Tim Bogar] about him today — they had him over there [taking] ground balls, and they said he looked really good,” Martinez said.
“Look this kid took everything to heart, he came this year and he’s thin, I mean, he’s got in great shape, he looks a little bit quicker, so today he took ground balls, and he was getting in front of everything, his feet were working fine, we’re just going to keep an eye on him.
“The throwing thing, sometimes guys do get in some habits, and for me it’s more about being lazy because they’re not moving their feet, and it’s been addressed with him and he understands it, that he has to use his lower half to throw the ball, so we’ll keep an eye on him and we’ll keep working with him this spring, and hopefully he understands that half of the part is catching the ball, and the other half is throwing it accurately to first base.”
A Really Good DH And DOO!:
Though there are multiple reports now confirming the Nationals and 41-year-old DH Nelson Cruz have a deal in place for 2022, it’s not official, so Davey Martinez couldn’t really directly address the roster addition when he spoke with reporters on Monday afternoon, but he did kind of totally address it.
“I’ll tell you this,” he joked, “pending a physical, hopefully we have a really good DH, and I’m looking forward to having him. So, I can’t say much more, he’s got to pass a physical.”
Cruz, who has a 162-game average of 39 home runs a year over the course of his 17-year big league career, would obviously be a difference-maker hitting with Juan Soto and Josh Bell in the Nationals’ lineup, and Martinez didn’t hide his excitement about the signing.
“If that person were to exist, he would mean a lot to our lineup,” the manager said.
“He brings a really good depth in our lineup, but what he brings — he would be a mentor to our younger players, to [Juan] Soto, to [Victor] Robles, to Carter [Kieboom]. But, I’ve known him for many, many years, he’s just a phenomenal guy, a great hitter.
“At one point in time he was an unbelievable player, but he can hit, and man, I’m so excited that he’s here, he’ll be fun to watch.”
One reporter noted that he’d also noticed Sean Doolittle had a nameplate in the clubhouse in West Palm Beach, FL.
“Sean Doolittle? You sure you read that right?” Martinez joked with the reporter who saw the nameplate.
“He’s another guy, pending a physical, we have a great relationship with Doo, we know what he can do when he’s healthy,” Martinez said.
“So, I’m looking forward to getting him back here. Honestly, he’s one of my favorites, so I can’t wait to see him again and hopefully he gets right back on track.
“Last year, we kept an eye on him, we watched him get his velo back, so we definitely think he can help us.”
Pitching in Cincinnati and Seattle last season after spending parts of four years in D.C. in 2017-20, Doolittle, 35, put up a 4.53 ERA, a 4.38 FIP, 23 walks, and 53 Ks in 49 2⁄3 IP in ‘21, with a fastball (which he threw 81% of the time) which sat at 93.1 MPH, after it sat at 90.7 MPH in 2020.
Soto’s Team - How Will He Lead Them?:
GM Mike Rizzo was clear in his first press conference of the spring on Monday that following the club’s sell-off at last year’s trade deadline, and now the retirement of Ryan Zimmerman, this really is Juan Soto’s team. Soto, 23, Rizzo said, is, “the face of the team, the face of the franchise,” and, “he might be the face of Major League Baseball. It’s his team.
“He’s going to be a young leader, but he’s going to be the leader of the club.”
What sort of leader will Soto be? He likes to say he still thinks of himself as a rookie, in spite of his otherworldly success early in his career, but Martinez said Soto is a natural leader.
“For me, one, he’s a student of the game, he understands the game, as we all know, especially the hitting portion,” Martinez told reporters.
Juan Soto was super excited about Nelson Cruz and said he called the Cruz last night to talk about playing together/the Nationals. Will have more in a story this afternoon.— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) March 14, 2022
“He’s still learning, and he wants to get better at certain aspects of the game, what he’s really good at it is taking everything, and when he’s a leader, he leads on the field by example.
“You watch him, and when he goes up to hit, everybody watches him — and when he’s playing the game. So I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to — of course he’s a leader, and I want him to understand that this team is focused around him, but also there are 25 other guys on this team, but he understands that. When I talk to him, he says, ‘I just want to be a good teammate and play hard for everybody on this team, and that’s all I can expect from him, that’s all I can ask of him.”
Martinez, who has been the manager for all four years of Soto’s career in the majors, said he thinks the young star can stay who he is even as the pressure is sure to mount over the next three years with free agency and the talk of a potential record-setting mega-deal.
“Honestly, we had one guy here that’s been here forever that decided to leave me this year in Ryan Zimmerman, he was that guy,” Martinez said. “He was the leader in his own way, but he led by example. He went out there, and never complained, played the game, was a great teammate and a great person, and I look at Juan as kind of being that guy, I really do.
“On occasion he gets vocal because he gets excited, but I see him just going out there and playing baseball, and that’s what he loves to do.”