At the end of the Nationals’ 55-107 finish in 2022, Washington’s GM, Mike Rizzo, talked about how he assessed the work his manager, Davey Martinez, and the club’s coaching staff did as the team kept building in a reboot they kicked off at the trade deadline back in 2021.
“I think he’s doing a good job,” Rizzo said over the final weekend of the ‘22 season.
“I think I’ve seen what they’ve done with some of the younger players. I think I see progress in some of our young guys like [Luis] García and [CJ] Abrams, and Keibert [Ruiz] before he was hurt, I think you’ve seen a lot of progress in some of our pitchers, especially our bullpen has done a remarkable job, taking some unproven guys, some guys that were cast aside by other organizations, and really made them into big league talent that we can depend on, and I think that you see a team out there that plays hard for 27 outs. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but the effort is there, and I think that’s all accountable for the coaching staff and for Davey.”
As for how he assessed the job Martinez and his staff were doing developing all of the young talent the organization had to that point assembled, Rizzo said it was a fairly simple, really.
“To me you evaluate the manager on how he handles the team and the organization,” the GM said. “I think he’s been the same guy from when we won a world championship to this year when we’re going to lose 100+ games.”
No one in D.C. wants to experience a 100-loss season again anytime soon.
Talking early this spring, as the club got back to work in West Palm Beach, FL, Rizzo again discussed why he thought Martinez was the right man for the job of getting the Nationals back to being a real competitor again.
“Davey is a world championship manager,” Rizzo told reporters.
“He’s gone through rebuilds and he’s had veteran teams that won championships. He’s gone through rebuilds. I think he does a terrific job. I don’t see any questions about his abilities or that type of thing. He’s going to be him and do what he does, and this — it’s a veteran group of coaches out there and they work extremely hard, and I rarely blame poor performance on the coaches. This is a player-driven business, and the players play, I think that you’re going to see — I think you saw last year, towards the last couple months of the season, where the extra work put in with the Abrams and García combination in the middle of the infield, and now you see it with the [Jake] Alus and Lane Thomas switching positions, off center field and to the corners, so I see extra work being put in on these guys.”
There is, of course, more work to do, and a young club in need of guidance as they establish themselves at the big league level.
“You’re going to have a good group of young pitchers coming in here and competing to stay in the big leagues, to pitch in the big leagues,” Rizzo continued, “… and they all have options left, we have flexibility with those good, young arms, so we’re looking for the coaches to coach up the players, and I see these guys working extremely hard and communicating well and getting these guys better, step-by-step.”
Going forward, how will Rizzo judge the work the Nats’ skipper and staff are doing developing the talent the club has assembled?
“The barometer is, we’re judged by wins and losses,” he explained. “That’s what this thing is all about, so that will be my barometer. We want to win. We’re certainly not going to be blinded by our win/loss record only. We understand where we’re at in the process. But players got to play better, and we want them to grow, and I think that the competition factor that we’re going to put into Spring Training is going to be key to that, and I think guys are striving to get better. You see what rebuilding teams do to get better.
“Just do your history. I keep going back to ‘09, ‘10, ‘11. Did we want to win only that few of games back in those days? No, but we see what was happening, we could see us getting to the point where we’re going to be good and sustain good for a long time. And that’s what we’re looking at this year.”
The starting rotation is likely to feature young pitchers like Josiah Gray (25), MacKenzie Gore (24), and Cade Cavalli (24), along with veterans Patrick Corbin (33) and Trevor Williams (30), and Rizzo said there are echoes of the young arms the club assembled for the run they had starting in 2012.
“They’re young enough, they’re talented enough, now they need the reps at the big league level to improve,” he said of the young core of pitchers. “We went through the same thing back in the day with Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, two drafted and homegrown guys, and then you can mix and match to get to the point where you’re ready take the next step and win consistently.”
What he wants to see in terms of the development of pitchers and position players alike, Rizzo said, is consistency.
“Consistency, and just getting into a routine, getting into a consistent routine,” he said. “Availability is a great tool. I would love to see those guys play every day, and get their 155-162 games in under their belt. When you have a good team, you have [to have] the middle of your infield consistent and available. I go back to the playoff teams that we had. It’s no coincidence that Ian Desmond would never leave a game, and Trea Turner would never leave a game, [he] played half a season with a broken finger. These guys — the value they have to their manager knowing your shortstop, your second baseman, your core guys are going to play every day is invaluable, and I think that’s the next step in their progression: Play, prepare, get your routine to be an everyday player in the big leagues.”
One thing not in need of rebuilding, rebooting, resetting, or whatever, is the culture in the nation’s capital.
“We have the same culture we have now that we did in ‘19,” Rizzo said. “This is a winning culture. Although we’ve struggled the last 2 1⁄2 years, we have a winning attitude around here. We’re upbeat, we’re a positive group. The players know what they get from me on a daily basis, and they know what they get from Davey on a daily basis, and I think that’s important. And although the names on the lockers have changed, the culture is the same, and I think that will be evident as we get closer to our goal of winning a championship again.”