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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez talks facing Max Scherzer, Mason Thompson in the ‘pen + more

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability in Citi Field...

Joey Meneses - A Month To Remember:

Joey Meneses, 30, debuted in the majors on August 2nd, following 10 years of playing in the minors and internationally, and a month into his time with Washington’s Nationals, the first baseman/outfielder has taken the league by storm, going 36 for 103 (.350/.385/.612) with a total of six doubles and seven home runs in 26 games and 109 plate appearances. So how does he maintain the production he’s provided so far?

“Making adjustments to stay in the big leagues is what it’s all about,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past Wednesday.

“So we’ll see when the league goes around a couple times, where they make adjustments to him if he can make adjustments to the league, but it’s been a great story.”

His manager in the big leagues, Davey Martinez, talked on Friday afternoon about what the veteran has to do to keep things going the way they have been in his first month in the big leagues.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

“I just really want him to just be himself, don’t change a thing,” the Nats’ skipper said.

“We always talk about what has made him good thus far, and that’s the ability to stay in the middle of the field, and hit pitches where they’re pitched.

“So, I don’t want him to do anything different, I don’t want him thinking about just hitting home runs, they’re going to come, just go out there and play the game.

“We talked about his defense, and some of the things that have happened, and he’s still learning, and he’s eager to learn and eager to get better. He’s done fantastic, as we all know, so I just want him to continue to go out there and not put any pressure on himself, just go out there and have fun and like I said, stay in the middle of the field.”

Thompson’s Turn:

Mason Thompson posted a 1.13 ERA, 2.87 FIP, and a .179/.281/.179 line against in nine games and eight innings pitched earlier this season, throwing 69% sinkers (which averaged 96 MPH, and against which hitters had a .217 AVG), and his slider (30.2%, .000 BAA), but he missed a significant stretch of time with a biceps issue which limited the 24-year-old.

One of two players (along with 22-year-old infielder Jordy Barley) acquired from San Diego in the trade which sent Daniel Hudson to the Padres at the trade deadline in 2021, Thompson’s got the stuff to be a back-end arm in the bullpen, but, manager Davey Martinez was asked in a pregame press conference once Thompson was called back up when rosters expanded, has he been surprised by the lack of swings and misses with the velocity and movement on the reliever’s pitches?

“I’m not overly concerned about the swings and misses,” Martinez said, “... as [much as] just attacking the strike zone, and getting ahead, instead of behind. I think when he gets ahead, his fastball, his stuff plays better, right?

“When he falls behind, everybody knows you’re going to throw a fastball, it’s easier for a hitter to gear up and get ready for a fastball. I think that’s the big difference.”

Martinez pointed to veteran reliever Erasmo Ramírez as someone for younger pitchers to watch closely, explaining how Ramírez, “is good because he doesn’t care if guys hit him.”

“He just wants early, weak contact. It doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t strike guys out or whatever,” he continued.

“He just wants to get guys out. I trying to tell the rest of our bullpen, ‘You guys are so good, stay in the strike zone, get early swings, early ground balls, or early fly balls, whatever the case may be, but you got to work ahead to do that.”

“That’s kind of where we’re at with Mason. ‘Hey, your stuff is really good, but you can’t fall behind 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, and expect not to get hit, right? You got to attack the strike zone early. He’s a guy that I feel like he can get the ball on the ground when he’s good. His ball moves that much, so that’s what we’re looking at. It’s so funny, because we had this conversation today when I saw him. ‘Hey, you’re going to strike guys out, but that’s not what we’re looking for, we’re looking for you to get ahead, get the ground balls, we think you can get ground balls, but work ahead. That’s what I want to see. We’ll see what happens.”

So more than his pitch mix, velo, swings and misses, Martinez summarized, it’s about him throwing strikes.

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

“Yes, and like I said, he’ll get early, weak contact, which we’ve seen when he does work ahead, it is when he falls behind — the pitches aren’t exactly — if you look at some of the balls that are hit, as we do, they’re middle-middle because he’s just trying to throw a strike. So, we tell him, ‘Hey, when you work ahead, you’ll get the swings and misses, when you’re 0-1, 0-2, you know, but now, as a hitter you’ve got look for a slider, whatever your secondary pitches are.

“Now you’re getting the jam shots, swings and misses, so the key for him is working ahead and not always working behind.”

In his first appearance since returning to the majors on Friday night, Thompson retired the three batters he faced in order, on 12 pitches (9 strikes), with three ground ball outs which his manager loved.

Thompson threw nine sinkers (75%), two sliders (17%) and one four-seam fastball, got one swinging and one called strike, and got up to 97.6 MPH with the sinker, while averaging 97 even, and five of 12 pitches, including four sinkers, were fouled off.

“When he’s going really good, that’s what he does, he keeps the ball on the ground, and he did well today,” Martinez said after a 7-3 loss to the New York Mets in Citi Field.

“What I liked about it was his mechanics were clean, and he was staying over the ball really, really well. So we can get that from him we have another guy that can potentially help us in the back end of that bullpen with him, [Hunter] Harvey, [Carl Edwards, Jr.], and [Kyle] Finnegan. Those guys have been really good. If he can continue to throw strikes like that, he’s going to be good.”

Cèsar’s Role:

Once Luis García came off the IL, and moved over to short, with CJ Abrams installed as the shortstop of the future in D.C., Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said he’d talk to veteran infielder Cèsar Hernàndez about where he fit in the club’s plans down the stretch, after he’d manned second base for Washington all season.

“I’m going to talk to César,” Martinez said.

“As you know, we’re going to play Luis and Abrams every day, you know. But there’s a possibility [Hernàndez] might be able to play some third base, and he’s already taking ground balls there. So I’ll talk to him about that. I’ll also talk to him about maybe even playing in the outfield a little bit as well. I know he’s done that.

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

“But he could possibly do that as well. So I’ll find ways to kind of get him in. I just don’t want him to sit there for five weeks. So he’ll definitely get some time in different positions.”

Thus, last night’s lineup, which featured the 10-year veteran in the outfield for the first time since his rookie season in 2013, when Hernández played 22 games in center field for the Philadelphia Phillies. He started in left in New York.

“I know he’s not bad out there,” Martinez said in his pregame press conference in Citi Field.

“I’ve seen him play before. He’s taken some fly balls, and he moves well. So, we’ve got him out there today.

“It’s more about trying to score some runs early and trying to get some offense early. Then we’ll see how the game ends up.”

Scherzer vs the Nationals:

“Just a crazy wild experience,” Max Scherzer said this past April of his first start in Nationals Park since he was traded to LA at the trade deadline in 2021, then signed on with NY’s Mets in free agency this past winter.

“It was almost good that this was the first one, just get it out of the way and let’s go on and keep marching forward,” he said of having his debut with the Nationals’ NL East rivals in the nation’s capital.

“A lot of great memories, but the team’s different. It’s not the same team that I played with.”

Before the game, Scherzer’s former manager said the Nationals were ready to take him on.

He was asked if it will ever feel normal going up against the one-time Nats’ ace?

“It’s never normal when you got to face Max, but like I said, we’re up for the task, we’re going to go out there and compete, and hopefully — we want to try to score early and often, so hopefully we score early and we’ll go from there,” Davey Martinez said.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The only player in the starting lineup on Saturday night who overlapped with Scherzer in D.C. was Luis García, the Nationals’ 22-year-old second baseman, who debuted in the big leagues in 2020, the 60-game COVID campaign, and played behind Scherzer before the three-time Cy Young winner was dealt in late July of ‘21.

García started last night’s game 2 for 3 against Scherzer, and improved to 3 for 4, with a one-out home run to right field on a 94 MPH, first-pitch fastball the Nats’ infielder hit 411 feet to right-center field.

It was García’s 6th of 2022, and the 10th off Scherzer this season, the eighth by a left-hand hitter.

Martinez talked before the game about what it is with Scherzer which allows him to endear himself to a new fan base so quickly, just a year removed from being a rival?

“You know what you’re going to get from him no matter what uniform he’s wearing, right?” the fifth-year skipper said.

“He’s going to go out there and compete, and he wants to beat you. Not just beat you in the game, but he wants to beat [you] every pitch, he wants to beat every hitter, and that’s just who he is, so as a fan you’ve got to love that. The fans got to love that he wants to go out there and win every game possible.”

Scherzer, who missed time with an oblique strain earlier this season, left the mound after five innings last night with an undisclosed issue...

García finished the night 4 for 5 with two doubles and the home run. He’s hitting .300 now.

And the Nationals beat the Mets, 7-1, breaking up a 1-1 tie with a run in the eighth, before the visitors added five in the ninth.

“He was good today,” Martinez said of García’s four-hit game.

“He stayed on the ball well, you know, yesterday, the hit against the lefty [David Peterson] yesterday really helped him out a lot.

“I mean, he stayed in, he locked in, he didn’t open up, and today he hit the ball hard.”

García homered to right-center the first time up, doubled off the right field wall in his third trip to the plate, a few feet short of a second homer, then doubled to left for his third hit in the game (before getting picked off second base, not great), and he finished up with a line drive to right field for his fourth knock.

Martinez liked seeing García spread the hits around.

“We worked a lot with him staying on top of the baseball, and today, like I said, even the home run he hit, it was more of a line drive than a fly ball.”