One bright spot at the end of the abbreviated 2020 season was watching Andrew Stevenson crush baseballs for the final few weeks. The outfielder hit .417 in September, with seven doubles, one triple, two homers and 12 RBIs. His on-base percentage was .488.
With Michael A. Taylor given the option to look for another team - and eventually signing a deal with the Royals - it was obvious the door was open for Stevenson to officially take on the role as the club's fourth outfielder going forward. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Stevenson's performance was not surprising to him because he knew the former LSU star was capable of such a run.
"I don't think anything he did this year convinced us about that," Rizzo said of Stevenson's potential as the team's fourth outfielder during a recent Zoom call with reporters. "We've had great expectations for him for a long time since we drafted him really high. We like the player. Skill set works for us, especially as a fourth outfielder or a platoon guy. He played with his hair on fire and a lot of energy this year, which we really, really liked. In a season that needed some energy, he exuded energy. I think he was a hungry player. He wanted to show me and everybody else that he belongs. I think his skill set sets up nicely for the type of game that he has."
Rizzo said Stevenson fueled that hunger, relaxed at the plate and demonstrated his ability in front of the National League.
"Confidence is a wonderful thing," Rizzo said. "And once he started playing well, earning everyday reps, and then it started taking off from there. I think that you saw a very confident player that has the tools to play in the big leagues. We feel he's got an opportunity to have a spot on this team and be an impactful guy on this team."
* Rizzo also confirmed that talks about shortstop Trea Turner's future with the Nats will not be affected by the economic situation going on in baseball due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown from last season. In the short term, Rizzo said Turner has nothing to worry about money-wise; if and when a long-term deal does occur, it will happen on its own timeline and not because of the recent unusual circumstances.
"Trea is going to make a lot of money this year in arbitration," Rizzo said. "He's going to make a lot of money in his career. That's a separate conversation that will happen or it won't happen down the road."
* It is always fun to get inside the mind of manager Davey Martinez and see how he decided on which way to go with his pitching decisions late in the crucial Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. Max Scherzer had been scratched from his Game 5 start and the Nationals had still somehow forced a final game thanks to Stephen Strasburg's performance in Game 6.
Scherzer took the mound in Game 7 and kept his team in the game. The Astros raced out to a 2-0 lead, but Scherzer settled in and kept Houston at two runs through five frames. He prevented the Astros from enjoying the big inning, as they ended up leaving nine men on base.
Then, after five innings, Scherzer had a meeting with Martinez in the dugout as the top of the sixth got underway. The Nats trailed 2-0. The skipper said he never second-guessed his decision to start Scherzer. But as the game went on, he knew he could not ride him forever.
"Absolutely, who better then Max Scherzer in that situation?" Martinez said recently via Zoom. "At that point, he gave us everything he had in that game. He came in and he says, 'Hey, I got one more, one more for you.' And I go, 'Hey, you did awesome. You kept us in the ball game. We got the rest.' "
Scherzer did his job, three days after he could not pitch in Game 5. Martinez had a plan and it worked. The rest turned into Nats history. The skipper handed the ball to Patrick Corbin, who recorded three shutout innings, getting credit for the win. Then Daniel Hudson notched three outs in the bottom of the ninth and the celebration was on at a mostly silent Minute Maid Park.