Davey Martinez has talked since the start of Spring Training about how impressed he’s been with the shape his team showed up in last Sunday, when they finally started the season following the 99-day lockout which ended with MLB and the MLBPA agreeing on a new CBA.
Martinez reiterated late this week how happy he was about the messaging from his staff getting through, and the players doing what they needed to while the negotiations were playing out.
“Yeah, I mean, like I said, before the lockout I made sure that we reached out to every one and let them know that when this happens, it will happen quick,” the Nationals’ skipper said. “Typically, we say, ‘Hey, be in really good shape so you can hone in on your baseball skills.’ Now it was like, ‘Hey, you got to be baseball-ready.’ Because we didn’t know what they would do, but plan on having games like right away. We only have a short period of time.”
Things kicked off for the players this past weekend in West Palm Beach, and Friday night the club played the first Grapefruit League game of 2022.
Going in, the fifth-year manager said they were ready, in spite of the abbreviated ramp-up.
“These guys came and they look good,” he said, “and I went around asking them all of them how they were doing, and all said they want to play, they were ready to play, they’re ready to get at-bats and get their reps, so that’s really good for us.”
Martinez and his staff are watching closely, however, to make sure that everyone is careful and not pushing it too far considering the circumstances.
“We’ve been watching them, putting eyes on them,” he said. “I’ll tell you, so far this group has worked super-hard, and you can see it in their defensive work, and their hitting. I’ve talked to [hitting coach] Darnell [Coles] about the hitting stuff, I talked to [bench coach Tim Bogar] and [new third base coach Gary Disarcina] about the infield stuff, and they said, ‘Man, they are sharp.’ Now it’s getting them in there and getting the game reps and keeping them on their feet for 3-4 innings today and see how they do and then they’ll go from there.”
Do any players of those in camp now stand out as having come to West Palm Beach in particularly good shape? Any TBSOHL candidates? Who showed up ripped?
“They all did, but the guy that surprised me a lot was Luis García,” Martinez said.
“He’s thinned out and really worked on what we wanted him to work on as far as his agility, and really, of course he says he can run a 6:3 now, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
“Cèsar Hernàndez, what a professional already, just watching him take ground balls and getting his work in, and working in the cage and watching his [batting practice] how he hits the ball to left field, right field, he can turn on balls. He’s been great. So I’m looking forward to watching these guys getting going and playing.”
Now that everyone has gathered in the club’s spring home, they can all start preparing for the 2022 campaign, and their manager wants them to be present and in the moment.
“They know what I tell them all the time is, ‘Be where your feet are.’ You know, ‘Let’s focus on the moment,’ and we’ll take it from there, but I think this group will surprise some people. I mean, they’re hungry. They’ve really gelled well together so far. We’ve only been here for — but they know each other.”
The team-building was not held up by the lockout, apparently.
“Apparently they’ve talked to each other through WhatsApp or whatever, and they have been in communication and stuff like that, so it seems like they already bonded.
“Then bringing a guy like Nelson Cruz in, who’s already — as we talked about yesterday, he has already helped out, and I’m just looking forward to working with him and watching him play and watching him hit.”
Speaking of García (As We Were A Few Paragraphs Back):
So what we know so far is that Luis García showed up at camp slimmed down, and he apparently put in hard work over the winter to address the things his team believed he needed to focus on as he prepares for the 2022 campaign. From what his manager has said so far this spring, it also sounds like he might end up starting the season at Triple-A, where the soon-to-turn 22-year-old infielder can continue his development after he was called up the past two seasons out of necessity.
“We were shorthanded, and he’s one of our young prospects,” manager Davey Martinez said of the decision to call García up in 2020’s 60-game season and again in 2021.
“Look, and I tell him all the time, ‘You’re going to play in the big leagues every day, but there’s little things we want you to do.’
“And he understands that, but he’s gotten better. Last year — he’s had these little nagging injuries throughout, you know, so for me, we want to get him going, and if he’s doing well here, this could be a different conversation at the end of spring.
“But it’s a short spring, so we want to make sure that we get him going and that when he’s here, he’s doing everything correctly.”
How does García take this sort of talk?
”Good,” Martinez said. “I mean, I talk to him all the time, and he understands, and he says, ‘I want to help this team, I want to help you.’ I said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, you will, just go out there and play and have fun.”