Young guys fit right in with a Nats team looking for repeat

One trend that has been noticeable early this season is how the young guys, most of them making their major league debuts, have fit in from the beginning with the Nationals, and have looked like they belong in the big leagues.

Luis García, 20, has hit the ground running. Carter Kieboom, 22, had only 11 games of experience coming into 2020, but he also fits in nicely this season. Young pitchers, or pitchers making their major league debuts, have held their own.

"They are all doing well, and it's good to see," said manager Davey Martinez on a pregame Zoom call. "They love to play the game. We talk about Luis. He is a student of the game. He pays attention to everything that is going on. You watch him up there at the top step just watching everything and learning. Before he goes up to hit he stands by me and he starts talking about the situation. I always ask him 'What are you going to look for? What are you thinking?' He's on cue. He is spot on. It's good to see a young player like that.

Garcia-First-Major-League-Hit-Sidebar.jpg"I think that's a testament to our development group down there. They do a good job with these kids. Them being here is part of our ongoing conversations with the minor league coaches and staff and knowing that these guys could be ready to help us as early as - like Luis - 19 or 20 years of age. So if they're ready, general manager Mike Rizzo is constantly moving pieces around. If he feels like he can help, he's going to bring him up."

But one difference between all the young players making their big league debuts this season on other teams and those that started with the Nats is that most of those other players play for rebuilding teams. The Nats are not rebuilding. They are trying to defend their world championship.

What separates these guys from guys on other teams who might just be gaining experience in a shortened season?

"It's all based on the way we feel," Martinez said. "And honestly, it starts with the circle of trust. These guys feel like they are a part of this team right when they get here. We have had them in spring training. They understand what we want. They know the importance of playing defense, of running the bases, doing the little things. I trust my veteran guys to keep these guys grounded. They do a great job with all of those guys with that. It's been a lot of fun. The mixture between the older guys and the younger guys, they all get along great. They all want to see these guys succeed. It's been fun.

"They know we want to win, we want to go 1-0 every day and they get that. That's one of the biggest things that I always tell them. Before they even step out onto the field every day, I go to shake their hands before the game or fist bump them, I say, 'Who do you play for?' And every one of them will tell me, 'For the Washington Nationals and my teammates.' And that's perfect."

Dave Martinez has been in their shoes. He made his debut with the Cubs in 1986 at the age of 21, playing 53 games. Did he feel like he fit in as the young guy on the team when he broke in?

"I tried to stay out of the way, " Martinez said.

The skipper provided a great story from his second season with the Cubs. When he arrived at spring training, he realized the club had placed his locker next to that of the already legendary Andre Dawson. By the time Dawson arrived from Montreal, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound, "Hawk" had been named Rookie of the Year (1977), been invited to three All-Star games, earned six Gold Gloves, won three Silver Slugger awards and finished second in the MVP voting twice.

At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, Martinez was a bit intimidated having to get ready right next to a guy with so many accolades. So Martinez devised a plan to keep a low profile.

"In '87, we had just signed Andre Dawson," Martinez recounted. "I'd known Andre Dawson by watching him play, unbelievable player, and I got a chance to play with him. But when he first came over they put his locker next to mine. Just by looking at him, he's a big guy, he looks intimidating. So during spring training, I made sure that I was there at 6:30 in the morning just to get dressed and get out of his way.

"Some of the other veteran players had told him that I was coming in early to get out of his way. So, one day I came in and he was already there and I didn't know what to do. So, I sat there and I was kind of waiting for him to get dressed and get all of his stuff. He calls me over and says, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'Nothing.' And he goes, 'You don't like me? I heard you don't like me.'

"I didn't know what to do. Seriously, I was like, 'Oh boy, this is not going to be good right now.' I said, 'Hawk, no I love you.' He said, 'Well, why don't you ever get dressed next to me?' I said, 'Hawk, seriously, I just wanted to give you space.' I am freaking out. I look around and all the guys are laughing, and he starts laughing.

"He said, 'Hey, you don't have to be afraid of me. If you are going to play next to me, you need to know me. We're teammates.' And after that, we were good. I was always next to him."

They ended up playing together for two seasons and became very close. Martinez says rookies don't have to feel like they have to shy away from the veterans who have paid their dues.

"Nowadays, these guys they come right in," Martinez said. "With Luis up here, we've seen him since he was 17, 18 years old, so they know him. He fits in. He knows his place, just like all the other guys do, and the veterans treat me as such. It's a good combination around here with these guys."

Game postponed, rescheduled for Sept. 4 doublehead...
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