After the season was completed, the Nationals announced they had dismissed their athletic training staff including head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz, assistant trainer Steve Gober, and strength and conditioning coach John Philbin.
New manager Dusty Baker was asked in his introductory news conference about the Nationals’ issues with injuries to key players last season. He was very concerned about the situation.
“That’s a big point,” Baker said. “I’ve always said if I can keep my frontline players on the field more than yours and I’m playing against your second line team, that I’ll probably beat you.”
“The main thing is how you train, how you take care of yourself. There’s a certain amount of good fortune that you have to have like Jayson (Werth) got hit in the wrist last year. That has nothing to do with how you train or take care of yourself. It’s a mindset. It’s how you train during the winter.”
Werth, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg and Craig Stammen were all injured for all or part of the season. Those injuries undermined the Nationals’ ability to stay competitive for long stretches of the season.
Baker said the training his players do in the offseason can be immensely important to their ability to complete during the season. He used an example of one of the most famous players of all-time and his offseason training regimen.
“I had Barry Bonds,” Baker said. “He would take two weeks off and he’d go back to work in two weeks. During the offseason, there are times when you don’t feel like training. Anybody here, sometimes you don’t feel like working out? Well, it’s the same way - sometimes you don’t feel like playing. And if you work out during the winter and work through those times when you don’t feel like, well, those are synonymous to games in August when you don’t really feel like playing.
“This is part of being mentally and physically tough.”
Baker mentioned that longtime Reds head athletic trainer Paul Lessard has been hired to lead the Nationals training staff.
President of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo said the health and strength of the team’s roster is critical to its on-field success and that something had to be done after last season. The Nationals played only two games the entire season with their projected opening day lineup intact.
“It was part of what we identified as one of the things we needed to improve on,” Rizzo said. “We really have come to a point where we’ve got ourselves a really a cutting edge, expansive, innovative health system that’s going to be in place, that’s going to be all-inclusive, that will hopefully reap benefits.
“We think that that is the next frontier. We had over 1,000 games missed by our core players. It’s hard to win no matter how deep you are or how good you think you are in the minor leagues with that many games missed by your core players.”
Rizzo feels that an innovative medical and training plan will pay dividends. But he was not ready to make an official announcement as to the specifics regarding the new staff.
“We’ve invested a lot of money into it,” Rizzo said. “We are going to wheel that out our new medical people when the time is right, when we’ve completed it. But we’re very excited with that addition to the ballclub, too.”