The Nationals have 11 games left in the regular season, and while they will try to go 1-0 in every one of them, the organization is already having internal discussions on how they can improve next year.
One thing they’re going to take a hard look at is how they stayed mostly healthy this year, particularly with their pitchers.
The Nationals placed 24 different players on the injured list for 25 different stints last year. So far this year, they have placed 16 different players on the injured list for 17 different stints. Six of those players were placed on the 60-day injured list at the start of the season, with two (Carter Kieboom and Israel Pineda) coming back at some point. Three players (Carl Edwards Jr., Victor Robles and Stone Garrett) were eventually moved to the 60-day IL. And two players (Riley Adams and MacKenzie Gore) only recently landed on the IL.
“One thing we're gonna really look at is how we kept these guys healthy,” said manager Davey Martinez. “Because we're gonna be young again next year. So we'll probably have to map out again some of the things we want to do and definitely use some of the things that we did this year.”
As it pertains to their pitchers, the Nationals have only had eight different pitchers make starts for them throughout this year. Keeping them healthy was a major point of emphasis entering the season after many of their starters dealt with injuries last year or entered this season with an injury history.
“I know I've been talking about this, but to go a whole year with just, now we got eight starters, it's pretty incredible,” Martinez said. “It's a testament to how hard those guys work in between their starts. What we did about going to a six-man rotation, giving them a little bit extra breather, slowing them down a little bit, it mattered to us and it mattered to them. Knock on wood, so far everybody's gonna leave here healthy and ready to go. We're gonna need all those guys come next year.”
Spacing their starts out, especially with a six-man rotation since the beginning of August, might be something the Nats will look to repeat in 2024.
“We've been talking a lot about that,” the skipper said. “I've heard from some other people from other (teams): How in the world did you guys pull that off? So we're going to look back and look at everything that we did to keep these guys healthy. I do think a lot of it was our medical staff, the way Hickey did things with them. Going to a six-man rotation when we did. Giving these guys a little breather in between. All of that really helped them all out. I can't put a finger on one specific (thing), but I think all of it together really did help them out.”
The Nationals want to finish this regular season strong before having those more in-depth conversations in the offseason. Martinez wants to see his team continue to play well with 12 of their final 15 games coming against teams who are still fighting for playoff positioning, starting with the three games in Milwaukee over the weekend.
“I want to see these guys finish up strong,” he said. “We've seen some good things. We've played some pretty tough teams, teams that are in the playoffs. For the most part, I think those three games in Milwaukee were actually pretty interesting. We faced some really tough pitching. But I learned a lot about our guys. I really have. These guys, they don't give up. I've said that before. I keep saying it. When they play hard, their at-bats get crisper as the game goes on. So, there's a lot that we can learn in these next two weeks about these guys.
“This is a tough time right now, the last two weeks to play, last homestand. But I want to see these guys stay engaged and play the game the right way. For the most part, I don't have to ever complain about them. I know they're tired. But they're going out there and they're giving everything they have right now.”
Although this season has already been a big step forward from where the organization was a year ago, a lot of work remains to be done this offseason to continue building this team back to contention.
Young teams across the sport made big steps this year, like the Orioles, who clinched their first playoff berth since 2016 on Sunday, and the Diamondbacks, who are battling for their first postseason appearance since 2017. Both teams lost 110 games in 2021.
Martinez can’t help but look at those clubs and think that his own will be reaching the playoffs again sooner rather than later.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Every win for us really matters right now going into the offseason. I want these guys to feel that way. You look at the Orioles. You look at Arizona. Arizona two years ago lost 110 games and now they're playing for something else. So I could see that happening. I could see it happening fairly quickly. So I'm excited about that.
“We're getting better, which is great. And we're gonna get a little closer and hopefully this winter and going into spring training, we'll be ready to go. But like I said, we'll finish this year out and the work is never done. We're gonna be grinding this winter, trying to figure out how we can get better. And then put a plan together for spring training and be ready to go. Try to get back into playoff contention.”