WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Though the exhibition season is about to get underway, there are still five weeks to go until opening day. So don’t be surprised when you see the Nationals lineup for Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Astros and don’t find many prominent names.
“We’re trying to see all our young guys early,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I wouldn’t read into that stuff early. We want to give our guys a chance to see everybody, because there’s so many young guys. ... (There are) some guys that I haven’t seen before. Trying to see them all.”
So it won’t be any of the big four members of the rotation getting the ball at the newly renamed FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, but rather Tommy Milone, back with the organization that originally drafted him way back in 2008 and now trying to make an impression again as a non-roster invitee.
And in the lineup won’t be veterans projected to start for the Nationals when the season begins but experienced bench players like Howie Kendrick, Matt Adams and Wilmer Difo, young players trying to catch someone’s attention this spring like Rafael Bautista and Taylor Gushue, plus veterans who are in camp on non-guaranteed deals like Ryan Raburn and Chris Dominguez.
“My biggest concern is not getting anybody injured, just getting them ready for March 29,” Martinez said. “And slowly but surely, you’re going to start seeing our regular guys getting in more games and getting more at-bats. But we’ve still got a ways to go, so I just want to make sure they’re ready to play.”
Friday’s game doesn’t count for anything, but it does represent Martinez’s first game as a big league manager. It’s a job he has spent a lifetime preparing for, especially the last 10 years as he served as bench coach for Joe Maddon with the Rays and Cubs.
Though he’s never officially been the one calling the shots, Martinez did have significant input with Maddon over the years. And he always made sure he was managing games in his own mind from the dugout.
“Every day,” he said. “Joe and I stood next to each other, and that’s what we’d do. I managed the game the way I’d see fit, and we’d share information and we’d come up with the conclusion. It was a lot of fun. Joe let me do a lot of different things. I love working with him and we had a great time working together. He showed me a lot of different things to look for, and I’m looking forward to applying that as a manager.”
So even though many of us will make a big deal out of Martinez’s managerial debut Friday, the man himself hopes it all comes across as second nature.
“I’ve sat there and I’ve managed games and given my opinions,” he said. “I’m very opinionated. When I got the job, (the Nationals) knew that. And it worked out. And now I get a chance to make the final decision.”
Update: Friday’s Grapefruit League game between the Astros and Nationals - in which the Nats are the visiting team - will be shown live on MLB Network at 1 p.m.