WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The first workout of the spring featured an extended “Circle of Trust,” some serious talk, some laughter, a moment of silence, a bunch of bullpen sessions, and plenty of grunts and curse words out of Max Scherzer.
Suffice it to say, the Nationals ran through the full gamut during the nearly two-hour session outside FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and there was an extra bounce in their steps.
“I got here a little early because I was ready, biting at the bit,” Davey Martinez said. “Been ready for a while. But just seeing the guys’ faces, the guys that have been around, the new guys ... it was outstanding.”
There were plenty of similarities to last year’s camp, Martinez’s first as a big league manager. Like the Circle of Trust, the daily morning meeting that often included some unconventional moments.
At the same time, Martinez is trying to strike a balance between the serious and the fun sides of camp. The serious: an extended talk this morning about an emphasis on defensive and baserunning fundamentals, and the importance of not looking too much at the prize at the end of the road.
“Everybody talks about the big picture, and the big picture is to get to the World Series, right? But how do we get there? You start off by today, winning today,” Martinez said. “Focusing on the here and now. ... We can’t control what happens in the future, but we can control and get better today. And that’s what I mentioned today. That’s going to be our philosophy going in.”
The fun: Third base coach Bob Henley gave an excessively boisterous motivational speech in which he implored players not to steal his coffee or his airhorn, and which ended with a stadium security guard handing him a bouquet of Valentine’s Day balloons that had been delivered to the front desk.
For those surely wondering, there were no camels on the premises today. Martinez, as you might imagine, was asked about that possibility after last spring’s infamous stunt involving three dromedaries who were supposed to represent the importance of the team getting over its proverbial playoff hump.
“You might not see any camels,” the manager said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t going to see any animals.”
Today’s proceedings took on a more solemn tone at 10:17 a.m., at which point everyone in uniform paused and participated in a 17-second moment of silence to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland, Fla. Players removed their caps and bowed their heads in honor of the victims.
Once the workout resumed, pitchers began heading to the bullpen mounds for their first official throwing sessions of the spring. Many have already been in town and throwing for several weeks, but this was the first time they all did so in a coordinated fashion with the full coaching staff (not to mention media and fans) watching.
All 15 pitchers scheduled to throw today did, none of them restricted in their workload. That included newcomers Patrick Corbin, Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal, who nearly 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery is champing at the bit to complete his return.
“This whole camp is going to be about trying to take it easy and trying not to do too much,” Rosenthal said. “Work hard, but at the same time don’t get too crazy. Because of the year off, I feel so good I could go 100 mph right now. But that’s not really necessary.”
The man who took the mound during the final group of the workout does not understand how to take anything easy. That’s what makes Scherzer the pitcher he is, and sure enough, he gave everyone the full show today.
Grunting on many pitches, cursing after a few didn’t produce the desired result, Scherzer threw more pitches and spent more time on the mound than anyone else today. He outlasted his bullpen mates - including fellow starters Corbin, Joe Ross and Jeremy Hellickson - by a good seven or eight minutes.
“That’s him, that’s his intensity that he likes to have,” said catcher Spencer Kieboom, who was Scherzer’s batterymate for today’s session. “He works hard, no matter what aspect. ... I think he looks as sharp as ever.”
By the time Scherzer was wrapping up, he had a captive audience. Martinez, Corbin, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, general manager Mike Rizzo and a dozen others were entranced by his effort and attention to detail.
“You watch him - every pitch, he’s engaged,” Martinez said. “If I’m a young pitcher, I’m watching him and I’m taking notes and studying what he does. Because not every fifth day, but every day this guy puts a uniform on, he’s competing.”