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Washington Nationals News & Notes: Davey Martinez on Stephen Strasburg; Nelson Cruz in the clubhouse + more

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability on Tuesday afternoon in West Palm Beach, FL.

Stephen Strasburg Throws Live BP:

For the first time this spring, and the first time since surgery for neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, Stephen Strasburg threw live BP to his teammates on Tuesday, and though the 2019 World Series MVP wasn’t on the mound long, the outing was a success and something to build on going forward as the now-33-year-old, 2009 No. 1 overall pick works his way up to hopefully taking the mound on a regular basis for the first time in three years. Small step, but a big one.

“I thought he threw the ball well,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters in his daily session with the media from West Palm Beach, FL’s FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

“It’s the first time he faced live hitters, and the ball was coming out fine. I think there was a lot of fluidity today, and I think he was happy with it, and so we’ll go from there, but it was good to see him back on the mound facing hitters.”

According to reports from the Nationals’ spring home, Strasburg faced Victor Robles, Lane Thomas, Juan Soto, and Josh Bell, throwing around 25 pitches total (+ warmups as WaPost writer Jesse Dougherty noted on Twitter), and came out of the session feeling good and he looked, Martinez said, like the Strasburg of old coming off.

“We’ll build off of that and go from there,” Martinez added, “... but man, I was actually really excited to see him finish his 25 pitches and walk off the mound, kind of like I’ve always seen Stephen walk off the mound, with that little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and say, ‘Yeah.’ So it was good. Good day.”

As for what’s next, with an abbreviated Spring Training, following the lockout, and talks over a new CBA which dragged on for three (interminable) months, the manager said he is not focused on the future, but just worried about building Strasburg up and making sure he’s healthy for the regular season, even though the starter seemed to suggest to reporters that the delay in starting up camp could be an issue with availability for Opening Day.

“For me, it’s about sticking to the program,” Strasburg explained, as quoted, again, by the WaPost’s Jesse Dougherty, “... and my routine is having a six-week spring training.

“I think of all years to just try and be aggressive, I don’t know if this is necessarily the right year and the right time to do it. So my goal is to be ready when I’m ready and be there the rest of the way.”

His manager too stressed taking a cautious approach considering all the right-hander has been through the last two seasons.

“We’re going to build him up and it’s going to be based on where we feel he’s at and where he thinks he’s at,” Martinez said, “... and then there will be a whole lot of conversations, dialogue with him, but like I said, today was a good day, and he did well, and like I said, he’s happy about it and I told him we’ll see how you come back tomorrow. But it was really good to see him on the mound, and the biggest thing for us, as you know, is to keep him on the mound and keep him healthy, so we’re going to do whatever it takes to do that.”

Martinez previously said that Strasburg’s struggles last season hurt, especially after having watched how hard he worked to get back after another season-ending surgery in 2020, so seeing him out on the mound again meant a lot to the skipper.

“He’s resilient, he really is,” Martinez said when asked what he’s learned about Strasburg in the last two years. “I mean, he’s — he’s had some injuries and we took care of everybody, bless him for coming out here and doing what he does. He worked really hard to get back, and like I said, to see him out on the mound today, and facing hitters, it was a good day, not only for me, not only for him, but for the Washington Nationals and the fans, so it was awesome, and like I said, we’re going to build off of that, and we’ve got to keep in mind that there’s a process that we need to do with him and we’re going to stick with that process.”

César At The Top?:

Signed as a free agent back in late November, right before the MLB-imposed lockout froze player movement for three months, César Hernández could end up being the Opening Day second baseman in D.C., with Davey Martinez saying on Monday that he wanted Luis García to focus on shortstop this spring, and on Tuesday, the Nats’ skipper talked about Hernández as a potential leadoff man in his lineup coming off a 2021 campaign which saw the 31-year-old infielder hit 21 doubles and 21 home runs in 149 games and 637 plate appearances with Cleveland and Chicago (AL), over which he had a combined .232/.308/.386 line.

That OBP’s off a bit from his .345 career average, and he’s posted a .373 OBP season in 2017 in Philly, so it could work, right?

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

“He actually — last year he hit 20 home runs, 21 home runs, I think, but I talked to him a lot about — we need him to get on base,” Martinez told reporters.

“I’d love for him to be our leadoff hitter and he’s done it, he’s a switch-hitter, he swings the bat well from both sides, but you know, the home runs are going to come for him, I want him to focus really on getting on base, taking his walks, and just hitting the ball gap-to-gap.

“That’s what I remember most of him, is that he got up there and he had the potential to hit the balls gap-to-gap, hit a bunch of doubles, on occasion a triple, and on the other side of the baseball, is the defense. This guy is really good, he’s got great hands. I watched him work today, I watched him turn double plays today, and he’s really going to help us out playing second base.

“So, I’m excited that he’s here, I know he’s excited about playing with our guys, and I’m looking forward to having him this year.”

Cruz-ing:

Though the signing is still not official, pending completion of his physical as the Nationals’ skipper explained on Monday, Nelson Cruz is expected to join the club in West Palm Beach soon, and the 41-year-old veteran brings an impressive resume, and serious home run pop, to the plate, so of course his soon-to-be-new skipper is excited about the possibilities their new middle-of-the-order bat brings with him.

“He’s going to be our constant DH every day,” Martinez said. “This guy has a track record of being an unbelievable teammate, a good clubhouse leader, and a tremendous hitter. And so I think not only is he going to help us win games on the field, but also he’s going to help our young players understand the game a little bit better in that clubhouse.

“As you know, for me, the clubhouse is theirs, and having a veteran like him, communicating with him, and relaying the message that I need to get to the players, especially the young players, I mean, he’s really good at that, so I’m looking forward to getting him here, and building our relationship and watching him hit and play.”

Washington Nationals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Martinez is not the only one genuinely excited about the addition of the veteran who’s hit an average of 39 home runs per season in his 17-year major league career.

Juan Soto told reporters on Monday that he was thrilled with the big addition to the club.

“I mean, when you see a guy like that ... just amazing,” Soto said, as quoted by the WaPost’s Dougherty (who should seriously get a royalty check from us at this point).

“You’re seeing a Hall of Fame player. Getting to know where he comes from and where he is right now, it’s just amazing what he’s done — not just for baseball but for the Dominican Republic.”

Should be fun to watch when he officially joins the team at some point in the coming days...