Returning from a shocking four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke prior to the series opener against the Marlins at Nationals Park.
Obviously, it has not been a good week for the Nats and Rizzo. The Nats have not won a game since Saturday night, losing a season-high five games in a row.
There has been a rush of talk on social media about the status of manager Davey Martinez. The club has lost 31 of its first 50 games of the season. But Rizzo is not going to point fingers at his second-year skipper, saying there is plenty of blame to go around for the rough start.
“We’re not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got a lot of season left. Davey’s not happy with what’s going on, nobody’s happy with what’s going on - the fan base, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We’ve got to play better baseball.
“Everyone’s got their part in it. Management, general manager - everyone’s got their part in how we’re playing, just as we have for the past eight years of how well we’ve played. This is a team process. There’s a lot of things that have to go right to win and we certainly have to turn around and play better baseball.”
The GM said it has been uncomfortable week for him as the Nationals lost four in a row at Citi Field, the first four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets since the Nats arrived from Montreal in 2005. He has seen that it’s not just the bullpen or the lack of a high-scoring offense that plagues the Nationals.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” Rizzo said. “We’re playing poorly. Believe me, I’m like a lot of the fan base, a lot of the players and the manager. It’s hard to watch sometimes. But we’re certainly not going to pull the plug before we’re a third of the way through the season.
“We’re a big league club, we’ve got a talented big league roster and we got to play better baseball. That’s it. We’re fairly spoiled in that clubhouse. We’ve won a lot of games for a lot of years and we’re used to winning. It’s not happening right now but we’re not going to pull the plug on the season less than a third into it.”
Rizzo spent several minutes on the field well before batting practice, while players got in their pregame running and stretching, and even well before right-hander Aníbal Sánchez prepared to throw a simulated game.
Rizzo got a chance to speak with his ace, Max Scherzer. The lengthy back-and-forth discussion took place near the dugout steps on the outfield side.
“I take the temperature of just about every player on the team, and we have an open dialogue. Max is frustrated, just like everybody else is,” Rizzo said. “We’re trying, together as a team, to put together a plan that helps us get better and get out of this drought that we’re in.”
One of the top reasons the Nats are in the mess they face is the bullpen.
The relievers have failed at bridging the seventh and eighth innings to Sean Doolittle in the ninth. Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough were signed to be a major part of the answer. Rosenthal is still rehabbing while on the injured list and Barraclough has struggled with consistency. So just like when Rizzo found them in the offseason, he is working to find answers right now. Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra have been brought in. Dan Jennings did not work out, was designated for assignment and eventually given his release.
The GM said it’s not just the current relief corps that he wants to improve.
“It’s hard to explain,” Rizzo said. “The stuff is there. You look at velocity, movement and, again, track record and past performance and they’re just underperforming right now as a group. It’s something that has to improve and we’re looking for ways to fix it via all sorts of alternatives - trade market, waiver wire and everything to see if we can fix a portion of the team that needs to be fixed.
“We, along with the bullpen, certainly have to play cleaner baseball games and we haven’t played well as a group. With this talented bunch to be where we’re at in the standings, to have our record, is just unacceptable.
“We certainly have players that are capable, with their stuff and their track record, of pitching in the eighth inning and being the bridge to Doolittle. They have to perform up to those capabilities to do it.”
But what about not swinging at a third strike? Or letting a fly ball drop between two outfielders? Or sloppy defense or baserunning? All of this continued to happen against the Mets, who won all four games in the late innings.
“Like any other fan, they’re gut-wrenching losses and they’re demoralizing and they’re upsetting,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got to put ourselves in position to win baseball game. We have to play cleaner games, we have to perform better and we have to play up to the capability of this roster.
“There’s a lot of people in this group right here that predicted (us) to win 90, 92 games, and win the division and World Series. That was our expectation coming into this, and a third into the season, I’m certainly not going to pull the pin on that and blow it up.”
Yes, 90 or more wins. That now seems farfetched for the Nats. But the Nationals have won 90 or more games in four of the last seven seasons. And Rizzo is quick to remind everyone that the Nats are not just focused on 2019, but also how the club will look for the next three to five seasons.
“Well, certainly you have to have a plan in place for all contingencies,” Rizzo said. “And like I said, we’re fairly spoiled here. We’ve had winning records, we’ve been in first place for a lot of the last seven years. There’s only three teams in all of baseball, I think, that have played .500 baseball over the last seven years. So we’re certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we’re at in the standings, and we always have a one-, three- and five-year plan in our minds, and that’ll continue.”
This seems to help the argument that the Nationals are still focused on re-signing soon-to-be free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. With 31 percent of the season completed, a lot of questions are coming at Rizzo about what he will do with the roster if the Nationals cannot start turning it around.
Some of those same arguments festered with slugger Bryce Harper in his free agent season of 2018, when the Nats struggled to stay with the Braves as the trade deadline arrived in late July.
The Nats have not entered June yet, but it already seems like the heavy vibration of the clock ticking on this season is ringing in their ears.