Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo met with the media Sunday prior to the series finale against the Orioles and talked about the state of his club after 11 games. He said there are some reasons the team has struggled out of the gate at 4-7.
"They sound like excuses, so I'm not going to use 'em," Rizzo said on a Zoom video call. "But, yeah, obviously the unevenness of the schedule, that doesn't help with your routine, your rhythm, either on the mound or at the plate. But we're dealing with it like all the other 29 teams, so that's nothing we can use as an excuse. Just have to play better baseball. I think our best days of baseball are ahead of us, and we're looking forward to today's game."
With the Nats trying to get something going and snap this early losing streak, the team might consider looking at making changes before the trade deadline. Unfortunately in a shortened season, the trade deadline comes Aug. 31, just five and a half weeks after the start of the campaign. Rizzo says that puts tremendous pressure on his scouting department. In years passed the department had 90 to 100 games to look at in deciding which players they like.
"Well, it hurts us immensely," Rizzo said. "The teams that rely heavily on scouts in the stands are at a great disadvantage, I feel. Our scouts are seeing games on television, on video, and writing the reports. We are going to rely on their experiences with these players in the past. It's good to have a good database in your mind about what kind of players they are.
"We are going to give it some time, and our guys watching things and evaluating. We are talking constantly about what our thoughts are, what our plans are. But it's early right now after 11 games or 12 games, for some teams, into this thing to really determine what our needs are and how other players are playing to trade for, or to trade."
One major concern so far has been the pitching of closer Sean Doolittle, who allowed back-to-back solo homers last night as the Orioles rallied for the 5-3 comeback win.
Doolittle has struggled with velocity on his fastball and his ERA has ballooned to 18.00 over four appearances to begin 2020. Rizzo believes Doolittle just needs more games to get right.
"These pitchers just have to pitch," Rizzo said. "With the short spring training 2.0, they haven't gotten enough work in to get the work where they want to be usually on Aug. 9. I just think he needs to pitch and he needs to compete.
"The same thing happened last year to him. He struggled during the middle of the season and was closing out games for us in the World Series, so let's not forget the caliber of pitcher he is, the type of player he is, the competitor he is and the great teammate of world champions that he is. I have nothing but great things to say in support of that guy, and he's going to turn it around and pitch great for us."
Rizzo is optimistic that his starting pitchers will come back into their regular rotation this week for the first time this season. Stephen Strasburg starts today, and Rizzo expects Max Scherzer to return to start Tuesday night in New York.
"He's completely past it," Rizzo said of Strasburg. "He wouldn't be on the mound today if he wasn't. His first outing of the season, eyes are going to be on him and watch for fatigue, but we are hoping that he gives us a great start and chance to win the baseball game, which he often does when he pitches."
Rizzo says Scherzer told him he is fine as he recovers from a tender hamstring that forced him out after 27 pitches in his last start.
"He felt great today when I saw him, and he's planning on pitching Tuesday, so we are not making any firm announcement, but I would imagine he is going to take the mound on Tuesday," Rizzo said.
Rizzo closed the session by answering questions about his contract status and that of his manager, Davey Martinez. Rizzo is in the final season of a two-year deal he signed back in April 2018 that is worth $8 million. Martinez has a club option for 2021 that would be worth $1.2 million if it is picked up. He signed a deal for three years plus that club option back in 2018.
"We haven't discussed that," Rizzo said of his status. "But I'm not worried about it. They'll take care of it when they deem themselves ready to take care of it. So, I haven't given it much thought. My focus is on winning a championship here in 2020. That's going to be our sole focus going forward."
Rizzo also stated there is not a set time in place for when an announcement would be made on Martinez's status with the club.
"I don't have a timeline, but Davey is deserving of one," Rizzo said. "He's earned it. He's a great representative of the Washington Nationals."