Given time to reflect on the 2022 season, the Washington Nationals’ fifth-year manager, Davey Martinez, talked at the Winter Meetings in early December about what he’d learned about himself on the bumpy road to a 55-107 finish which left his club in last place in the NL East for the third season in a row.
“You know what — I know that I have patience,” Martinez sort of joked, “... but last year I learned a whole lot more patience. You know what, though, I sat back, and I often caught myself laughing at some of the things that we’ve done and the fact that I love the guys, the way they play, with the energy these guys had every day.
“So I’m looking forward to watching these guys grow and mature, and it will be a lot of fun for all of us. But it was trying. I’m not going to say — I’ve been on teams where we win quite a bit. Losing like that wasn’t fun. But I don’t think anybody had fun in that clubhouse.”
Martinez’s message for his club on the way out this past season was that they need to know losing 100+ games again is not acceptable, but he didn’t have to tell them that part.
“That’s one of the big takeaways I took at my exit meetings,” Martinez explained, “… is all those guys were disappointed with losing so many games. They want to get better. They want to compete.”
Martinez, after giving everyone time to decompress, had already talked to some of the Nats’ returning players when he spoke with reporters at the Winter Meetings, making sure they’re hard at work preparing for 2023’s run.
A number of them, he said, were putting in the work already at that point, preparing for the start of Spring Training and the 2023 campaign.
“I’ve let them do their own thing for a while,” he said, “… and then I started talking to them now and let them know. For the most part, I’m getting videos of them hitting, working out. They send me all this stuff.
“So it’s pretty cool to watch these guys. I could tell you now, I’ve seen — Lane Thomas is already hitting on the field and working on trying to stay on the ball, hitting the ball into right center field.
“It’s kind of nice that these guys really took it to heart about being ready. Like I said, being ready day one of Spring Training and make that our Opening Day so that we can work on baseball stuff and not worry about getting ready physically.”
Asked if anyone in particular stood out in the videos they’ve sent him this winter to show what they’ve been up to, Martinez said they have all been putting in work, but his young second baseman stood out.
“Keibert [Ruiz] has been hitting,” he said. “Luis [Garcìa] looks great. Luis lost about nine pounds of body fat, nine percent of body fat. He looks really good. He took it to heart he needs to be more agile. He needs to be quicker on his feet. He looks great.
“Victor [Robles] went and is playing winter ball. He’s doing really well. Working on some of the things that [Hitting Coach] Darnell [Coles] wanted to work on, and I think Darnell is actually headed over there this coming week to go watch him play a little bit and talk to him.
“We’ve got some things going on. We’re definitely invested in all our players.”
García, 22, moved from short to second base when the club acquired CJ Abrams from San Diego in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell deal at the trade deadline last August, and Martinez said he’s really happy to see his infielder putting in work over the winter to address things they agreed he needed to build on.
What does a leaner, more agile García do for the Nationals’ infield and offense?
“It will be awesome,” Martinez said. “He’s got good hands. We talked a lot about him and his first step, and we think this will help him out a lot. It’s also going to help him run a little bit better.
“As I told Luis, you definitely got some pop in your bat, but right now let’s just worry about the chases and putting the ball in play. You hit the ball hard when you do hit it, using the whole field. If you could hit 40 doubles, the results are going to be you’re probably hitting 20 home runs in the meantime.
“So that’s something that he wanted to work on this winter.”
Will the increased agility help García in the shift-free game they’ll play in 2023 after MLB “banned” infield shifts?
“He’s got to cover a lot, yeah,” Martinez said. “Honestly, if you look at the other side, I think it’s going to help our hitting out as well with CJ and Luis and even [free agent signing] Jeimer [Candelario], who I’ve known, who does hit the ball a lot in that hole. I think it’s going to help him out a lot as well.”