Davey Martinez had a simple message for his players going into the lockout back in early December. No one knew how long the negotiations over a new CBA would grind on, but everyone needed to be ready for the possibility it would end, and it would be necessary then to get into gear quickly as possible to prepare for an abbreviated Spring Training.
“Before the lockout, we made sure that we let these guys know that we don’t know how long this will take, we understand, but what we also need to understand is that when this thing breaks, it’s going to break fast, and you need to be ready,” Martinez told reporters on a Zoom call from Day 2 of Spring Training 2022 on Monday.
“We cannot wait for people to be not in shape, not in baseball shape as well. A lot of times you come to Spring Training, you’ve got six weeks, guys come in kind of — I said, ‘No, you guys got to be ready to play baseball,’ and they took it to heart.”
Surveying the scene around the Nationals’ spring home in West Palm Beach, FL on Monday, Martinez was thrilled with what he saw from the players the club has assembled.
“I’ve been down here for a month and watching some of our younger players,” he said, “… and the energy that they brought, I said, ‘Hey, we only got three weeks, so we need that kind of energy right now, so we can get a lot of work done and get it done quickly, but you guys are all ready to play.’ So, they were good, they were really good. I saw some really good things today.”
What he saw was a mix of young players and veterans who are going to try to start turning things around in D.C., after back-to-back seasons, in which the club failed to follow up on 2019’s World Series win.
“Aníbal [Sánchez] threw a bullpen today and he was strike one, strike one, strike one. And he threw the ball really well, so that was good to see,” Martinez said.
“Saw some younger guys doing the same thing. [Patrick] Murphy threw the ball really well. All those guys. [Kyle] Finnegan threw the ball well. So it was good to see those guys, and like I said, we got a lot of work to do, but they’re engaged. I really thought — we didn’t know what to think because we couldn’t talk to anybody. But we got guys already ready to pitch in the game.
“They really took it to heart about getting ready. And we have guys that have already been throwing some live BPs on their own, and there are some guys that we have to keep back a little bit, but for the most part they all look really good.”
The fact that everyone came into camp ready to go was a good sign for the skipper all the messaging from his staff was received by the players.
“It’s a testament to, one, how we preach things to them and what we expect of them, but ultimately they have to do it and they’ve done it. And I’m proud of them,” he said.
“Like I said, they looked really good, and I was actually beside myself watching these guys, and watching them run and watching them go through the PFPs and things like that stuff.
“The outfielders working, the infielders — 25 minutes of ground balls your first day is a lot, but they looked good, and they were throwing the ball across the diamond really well.
“So, I talked to the coaches — as we always do after the workout, and we always meet, and they were like, ‘Wow, this group really went back and really did what they needed to do, and they came back ready.”
Since the lockout ended, the Nationals have signed a number of veterans, and their mix of young up-and-coming guys and seasoned vets is part of the plan as the club’s full-on reboot continues following last July 30th’s sell-off at the trade deadline, which brought an influx of young, big league-ready talent into the organization.
On the mound: Steve Cishek— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) March 14, 2022
Behind the plate: Keibert Ruiz
In the box: Juan Soto pic.twitter.com/MGNtfl90vJ
“We — I like the balance of what we’re doing right now,” Martinez said.
“These guys have had success, they understand the game,” he added of veterans like Sean Doolittle, Nelson Cruz (not yet official), Sánchez, and more.
“We’re bringing a guy in, hopefully, if he passes his physical, that can really teach our guys how to work an at-bat,” he said of Cruz.
“And that’s going to be great for our young players, and I know, as you all know, this guy is a professional hitter.
“And with Aníbal, he’s a guy that’s been around and understands how to pitch, but another guy that understands how important it is to throw strikes, and that’s what we’re trying to teach our young pitchers. So he’s going to help out a lot.
“And Doo, the experience that he has in the bullpen, he’s going to help out guys like a [Tanner] Rainey, and some back of the bullpen guys, because Doo has done it, so — and once again, we’ve been short on lefties here and having another lefty like him in the bullpen is definitely going to help.”
Martinez learned a lot down the stretch last season, and even though they were not on the winning end often, there was valuable learning going on he thinks will help going forward.
“Look, last year, we didn’t end up where we wanted to be,” Martinez explained, “… but these guys learned a lot. And I [sat] back and I watched some of the games from last year, and these guys that played hard. We came up short a lot at the end of the ballgames, but those guys that played every day, they played hard, they played well, we scored a bunch of runs in the second half of the season. Now just adding a couple veterans here and there and trying to straighten out our bullpen, these guys understand what they need to do to play, and … we brought in some new coaches that I thought could help some of these younger players understand a little bit more of the game, so we’re going to stay on them.
“We had a lot of Zoom calls this winter with the coaching staff, we went over a lot of individual players a lot and how we can get them better, so we’re going to apply that this spring with all of them.”