As he prepared for his first season as a big league manager, Davey Martinez scanned the Nationals roster and saw names of players with considerable experience and considerable success up and down the list. So Martinez’s instinct was to stay hands off, to trust that these players knew how to prepare and didn’t need a new staff to come in and reinvent the wheel.
As he now prepares for his second season - on the heels of a disappointing first season, mind you - Martinez has come to a different conclusion. He’s not going to be hands off this time around.
“I’m going to push the envelope a little bit more than I did this year, especially with fundamentals,” Martinez said today at Winterfest. “The baserunning’s got to get better. Not making outs on the bases. Fundamentally sound. Turning double plays. Being more aggressive on defense. Whether we’ve got to shift more, shift less. We’re looking at all that stuff. But we’re definitely going to push the envelope, especially at spring training.
“I already told the guys at the end of last year: Spring training will be a lot different. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Cynics will read that, roll their eyes and wonder why Martinez didn’t preach that message a year ago and ditch the camels and disc jockeys for more fielding drills. Optimists will look at it and take comfort knowing the Nationals manager learned something in his rookie season, acknowledged his mistakes and now is determined to be better in his second go-around.
Whatever your view, on this point everyone agrees: The Nats weren’t as successful in 2018 as they could have been, and though injuries and individual struggles contributed heavily to that, there are larger, all-encompassing issues that can be addressed by the team as a whole. And Martinez and his coaching staff intend to do that.
“We’re going to run the bases,” he said. “We’re going to do the little things. Guys want to hit. They want to hit, hit, hit, hit, hit. There are going to be days where they’re not going to bring their bats out. We’re just going to work on fundamentals.”
The Nationals’ 82-80 record might well have been the result of poor execution at little things. Despite outscoring the opposition by 89 runs over the full season, they went 18-24 in one-run games and 4-10 in extra innings. They were picked off 22 times, most in the majors. They ranked 25th out of 30 clubs with a -48 Defensive Runs Saved rating.
All that sounds surprising from a team that had won back-to-back division titles and returned nearly the entire roster intact. Why would a new coaching staff need to dramatically change things? Turns out there’s more to it than that.
“You get to a team that’s had success, it’s one of those things where (you say): ‘I don’t want to mess it up,’ ” first base coach Tim Bogar said. “These guys have a good thing going on. We’ve got to kind of figure out how guys are doing things. But we can’t forget that we need to coach, and we need to take care of everything, so every day guys are going to get better.
“And they’ve got to want to get better. So we’ve got to motivate them along with the actual teaching. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for us: to keep them interested in the little things. Cause it’s easy to go out there and hit. It’s easy to try to hit homers. It’s easy to score runs. But going first to third when the ball’s in the dirt, those type of things, they get boring over a long season. They get tired. They don’t want to do it. So we’ve got to stay on top of it as a coaching staff.”
Bogar joins the rest of this season’s coaching staff returning intact in 2019. All will hold the same positions, though, as Martinez pointed out, no one is confined to one simple responsibility that correlates to his official title. Anyone can contribute to any aspect of the game, making this a collaborative effort.
And the emphasis will be on the collective, not on the individual.
“We’ve got to learn how to play the game,” Martinez said. “I’m not talking about individual play. I’m talking about team baseball. We’ve got to learn how to play together. We saw a little bit of it last year, but we need to do it consistently. That’s our emphasis going into spring training: Learn how to play team baseball, and playing together and helping each other out.”