“Nobody wants to aim to win 70 games in a season,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco last week.
“We want to win 97 games in the season,” Rizzo explained. “So that’s our goal.
“That’s always been our goal. But this is a good step in the right direction to that. I’m really excited about what’s coming down the pike and the players that are going to be the next core group of the championship team that plays in National Park.”
Excitement about what’s coming for the organization is something both Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez spoke about earlier this month, with both happy to receive multi-year deals which guarantee they will be around to see the rebuild they kicked off at the trade deadline in 2021 through.
“This will be my second rebuild,” Rizzo said, “... so we’ve gone through our share of losing, but it’s all worth it for that 8-10 year run of excellence, and competitiveness, and playing competitive games at the end of the season.”
“All the strife and struggles that you go through can’t even be measured to the glory that you have when that 27th out of Game 7 of the World Series goes into the guy’s mitt.
“That’s why it was so important to me to be here to see this through and to hopefully see another succession to be a really competitive team in a really competitive division and to win another ring for the Nationals fan base.”
“We got a lot of good young guys, and some of the guys that are coming I’m really, really excited about,” Davey Martinez said recently in talking about the next wave of talent coming up in the system. “Some of the core guys that we got in Double-A that are doing well, we’re excited about those guys. So the plan seems to be progressing and progressing quite quickly. I don’t think that we’re that far off. We’re playing, we compete here every day and the guys are going out there and playing hard. So I love that about them. So we’ve got to continue to go and continue to get better.”
Three active trade deadlines, and international and first-year player drafts, including the No. 2 overall pick in this past July’s prospect class have restocked the organizational pipeline in the nation’s capital, with some serious talent on the rise and making waves.
“We’re deeper than we’ve ever been at many positions, and when you talk about [2023 1st Round pick Dylan] Crews and [James] Wood and [Robert Hassell III] (both acquired in the Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) trade to San Diego last summer), and [2021 1st Round pick Brady] House and that group,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies a few weeks back, “... they’re not only young, they’re advanced for their level and playing well. I think you can see the results of that are coming fast, and when we talk about getting back to a championship-caliber club, you see the light at the end of the tunnel is coming.”
A 70-win club is not what they’re building towards, but it’s a sign of progress after last year’s 55-107 finish. Martinez talked about what getting the 70th win in last night’s regular season-ending opener in Atlanta last night, a 10-6 win in which the club hit five home runs and held on against a 103-win Braves’ roster.
“Every win is important, but to get to 70 when, honestly ... when we started the season, we didn’t know [what] to expect,” Martinez said. “It feels good. We’ve got two more games. I’m hoping to get 71 tomorrow.”
TREVOR WILLIAMS SEASON 1:
Going into Trevor Williams’ 29th start of the 2023 campaign, back on September 16th, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about the contributions their 31-year-old pitcher has made in the first season of the 2-year/$13M deal with the club.
“For me,” Martinez said, “he’s just got to keep the ball down, work down. Work side-to-side, in and out. Look, he’s done a lot for us, he really has. The guy has taken the ball every five days. Hasn’t done that in a while, so I’m really proud of the fact that he maintains himself, he keeps himself in shape, he works hard every day, and he gives us those innings every five days, but in order for him to be successful, he’s got to work in and out, keep the balls down, and utilize his changeup and slider.”
The 29 starts for Williams were the second-most in his career, behind only the 31 he made in 2018 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and after working in the bullpen and rotation in New York last season, he’s jumped from 89 2⁄3 innings pitched in 2022 with the Mets to 141 this year, after he went just two innings (on 70 pitches) on the road in Milwaukee earlier this month.
Martinez said Williams has handled the transition back to starting full time fairly well.
It’s the first time he’s started exclusively since 2020’s COVID campaign, and with some time off, he made it through the season, with a 5.55 ERA, 6.04 FIP, .297/.354/.537 line against and a total of 34 home runs (2.17 HR/9) allowed (4th most in the majors) before last night.
”It’s just the way he goes about his business in-between the starts,” Martinez said of how the righty has been able to build back up as a starter.
“He works really hard. He does. And it’s long — when you haven’t done it such a while, it’s a lot of innings that we’ve asked him to accumulate. I think moving forward, he understands what he needs to do this winter to get a little bit stronger, to sustain what he needs to do to pitch every five days, but he’s done a great job, he really has.”
“He doesn’t complain about much,” Martinez added. “He goes out there, he takes the ball, just like the other guy we have, [Patrick Corbin]. They take the ball every five days and you can count on them to do that.”
A few hours later, after Williams gave up five hits, two walks, and three runs in two innings of work, the Nats’ skipper talked about what went wrong and what the club might do with their starter over the final few weeks of the campaign.
“He was missing, but not missing by much, and he got himself in trouble by falling behind. I think he fell behind five of the first seven hitters, you know, so that’s tough. He’s got to pound the strike zone. He’s got to get ahead, stay ahead, and really get the ball over the white part of the plate. He had a lot of pitches. He wanted to go back out there, and I said, ‘This time of the year I’m not going to do that to you. That’s a lot.’ And like I said, he’s been a workhorse for us all year, and I wasn’t going to send him out there.”
A few days later, the manager announced they would skip a turn in the rotation for Williams, but not shut him down, giving him an extended break, and then an opportunity to finish the season.
“His velo is down a little bit. His velo is down. I talked to him, and he said, ‘Man, it’s been a long year,’” Martinez shared. “But he’s trying to push himself, because he understands the importance of eating innings this year for next year. And the more he can push his body through this year, he knows what he has to do over the winter to get through it next year, so he’s been awesome. The guy takes the ball. We’ve got two veteran guys that have been really, really incredible. They don’t complain. They take the ball every five days. They were great with our young starters, our young kids. Good clubhouse guys. I love both him and [Patrick] Corbin both. They’ve done really, really unbelievable stuff with our young guys. And like I said, they’re teaching these guys, ‘Hey, you’re not going to have your best stuff, you’re going to get beat up some days, but your job is to take the ball every five days.’ And I think that’s another reason why these guys did what they did, because they were ready to take the ball.”
Given one more opportunity this season, Williams took the mound last night in Atlanta, GA’s Truist Park in the series opener with the Braves, and gave up seven hits, two walks, and two earned runs in 3 1⁄3 IP, over which he threw 75 pitches, 43 for strikes.
Williams talked afterwards about going out there 30 times, and staying healthy throughout the first year of his deal.
“I’m just thankful my body was able to hold up all year,” Williams said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “It’s a big step forward for me. I don’t know how many innings I ended up with, but for me to have that as a baseline going into next year is only going to help me be ready and sustain me for next year.”