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Washington Nationals’ defense needs to get better ... sooner than later

GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez talked about the defensive struggles the Nationals are going through in the first two months this season...

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

“We’re making too many mistakes, obviously,” Washington GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s The Sports Junkies last Wednesday, in discussing the defensive issues the Nationals have been dealing with in the first two months this season.

“We’re No. 1 in the league in errors made,” Rizzo continued, “and our run-prevention is poor, and our run-creation is solid.”

“We don’t strike out much, we’re at the top of the game there. And our run-scoring is fine, so we’ve got to prevent more runs, and to do that you have to run the bases better, you got to play defense better, which helps the pitching, and we’ve got to stop walking people. Our pitchers have to throw the ball over the plate, and throw it in the strike zone to give us a chance to win and I think that’s Davey [Martinez’s] message to our starters and relievers, you got to attack the strike zone, and trust your stuff, and let the defense help you behind you.”

But if the defense doesn’t help? With three errors in Tuesday night’s loss to Miami’s Marlins, the Nats had an MLB-high 32 errors on the year.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

All three errors came in the seventh inning, when reliever Erasmo Ramírez booted a bunt to the mound after a leadoff double, then sailed a pickoff throw Josh Bell collected before he threw it away for a throwing error of his own which allowed two runs to score on the play. It was … not good.

“One, Erasmos, he got stuck, his front leg, but it should have been a balk,” Martinez said when he went over the sequence in his post game presser on Tuesday.

“I thought they were going to call balk and the play is done, but he tried to throw the ball because there was a guy on third base, threw the ball away, and then Josh Bell turned and fired the ball to where he thought [Alcides] Escobar was the cut, and he just missed everybody, so in that situation, like I said, man, in those situations we’re trying too hard to create something that’s not there. All he had to do was probably take a peek, look where everybody is at, and then fire the ball straight to third base.”

Asked if a different approach or message was needed to shake the club out of the defensive funk they’ve been in, Martinez said his club just need to keep hammering home some things they’ve been stressing from the start.

“For me it’s about addressing the issue every day,” he explained. “We address all the issues every day. I sit with the guys, I talk to them every day and address it, and hopefully we get better. Like I said, we got some young guys that are learning and are getting better, and we got some veteran guys that just need to perform a little bit better, honestly, if you think about it. And I think that’s going to come. I really do. So, I’ve said this before, you see signs of us maybe breaking out one day, and you think that the next day — but we got to start, one, like I said, driving in runs, and just making things happen. Staying positive and making things happen, that’s all we can do. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this, is that we stay positive, and we pull for one another and we try to go 1-0 every day.”

Does the fact that veterans are making mistakes affect some of the younger members of the roster?

Are younger players pressing and maybe forcing the issues as things have gone wrong?

“It’s all of them,” Martinez said. “It really is. I can’t pinpoint just one guy. A lot of guys are just pressing right now, because they care. The biggest thing about this group is that they care. And they want to win, they want to snap out of it, but we need to just relax a little bit and just play the game.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

“I talk about chasing the game, you can’t chase the game, you know. Just relax and go out there and play the game and have fun.”

The club’s defensive struggles came up again in Rizzo’s visit to the Sports Junkies this week, with the GM in D.C. explaining it’s hard to figure out why some normally solid defenders are struggling in the field.

“You know, it’s hard to put my finger on it right now,” he told the Junkies. “We’re evaluating what’s going on, and it’s not a lack of preparation or work. The guys are working, I think they’re maybe working a little bit too hard pregame, and we’re concentrating a lot on it, putting a lot of energy into it, and I think just guys are pressing a little bit and just trying to do too much and we keep thinking about it, worrying about it, and talking about it instead of just letting it flow.

“You’ve got some competent defenders there. Up there middle you’ve got two Gold Glove winners, and you’ve got a center fielder that was a Gold Glove finalist and a catcher that is going to be a Gold Glove finalist in the near future I believe.

“We should be strong up the middle, and we’re not. And I understand that the Gold Gloves up the middle haven’t been for a couple years, but they’re still good defensive guys and we should be playing much better.

“I’m not going to make a lot of excuses for it. This is the big leagues, you’ve got pick the ball up and make the routine plays and you have to make them routine and you have to make them all the time, and we’re just not doing it. So, it’s affecting the pitching staff, our starters, and it’s affecting our bullpen, and it affects the final score of the game, and it’s the biggest problem we have and we have to keep working at it to get better.”

The Nationals didn’t make any errors in Wednesday night’s win over the Marlins...