For a young player in his rookie season, there will be highs and lows. There will be good plays and bad. But the one thing Nationals manager Davey Martinez wants Luis García to remember: Relax, have fun and play the game.
“I told him, ‘Just be you,’” Martinez said via Zoom. “There is going to be conversations about the game that we have every day with him, whether it’s with me, whether it’s (bench coach) Tim Bogar, whether it’s with (third base coach) Chip Hale. This is a learning process for him. And it’s also a learning process for us to see how much he knows and understands the game.
“It’s a perfect scenario for a young kid right now. There’s no fans. He tries to relax, he goes out there has fun and goes to play. He has done really well. It’s good to see. But he is still learning. He has got a lot to learn and he knows that, but he wants to learn and he is processing everything fairly well.”
During games this month, fans can see shortstop Trea Turner working with García between innings at second base and focusing on where each of them wants the ball on double play throws. Turner has taken on the role of a mentor and likes to pass on all the in-game knowledge he has accrued as a big leaguer, not only to García, but also to Carter Kieboom at third base.
“I notice Trea talking to both of them quite a bit,” Martinez said. “You see it on the field, but Trea does diligence in the clubhouse as well and tried to teach him the right way to do things. It’s pretty awesome to see. It’s one of the things that Trea this year has done. He’s matured a lot, being the veteran guy with some of these young guys, really taking him and take him under their wings.”
García gravitates to Juan Soto as well. They are both from the Dominican Republic, are both about the same age, and have a lot in common. Martinez sees the pair talking hitting all the time. He has told García that the Nats do not want the second baseman to try to hit home runs every at bat, but find a way to make good contact and wait for his pitch.
“Him and Soto are really close and they talk a lot,” Martinez said. “They talk a lot about hitting and approach. When I watch those two, (they’re) always sitting down together and talking. When García has a question about a pitcher, he seems to always go to Juan and talk to Juan about his approach and how he faces that pitcher.
“Being that Juan is super young as well, for him to actually take García and teach him what he has learned so far is pretty awesome. It’s been really good. These guys have really helped our youngsters out.”
But was is funny is that Soto is still one of those young guys. He is only 19 months older than García. And with only 300 major league games under his belt, Soto represents as a mentor for García, too.
Martinez says that whether it’s Howie Kendrick, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg or Soto, it’s the responsibility of everyone on the club to step forward and be eager to help the young players on the team learn from their experience.
“It’s talked about - by myself, talking to the coaches and talking to players and reminding them that they were young,” Martinez said. “They had their first day in the major leagues. Whenever you can help some of these other guys out, doesn’t matter how old you are, help them out. Get them. Talk to them, talk positive to them. Let them know that even when things are going bad, things will turn around fairly quickly. Stay as positive as you can. These guys have been good about it.”
Rookies will make mistakes. Bobbling an easy grounder, swinging at a bad pitch, not taking that extra base. It happens. But the skipper makes sure his players learn from failure, don’t dwell on it and look ahead instead of back.
“I hate negativity,” Martinez said. “We don’t allow it. We don’t talk about it. When things go bad, we find something positive and try to turn it into something that will be helpful in the future, and these guys get it. These guys understand it’s a long season and you are going to go through some bad spurts, but you are also going to go through some really good spurts. Learn from both and take it and then move on. We turn the page every day. We don’t dwell on the past. We move forward. Thirty minutes after the game, win or lose, put it aside, let’s come back tomorrow and do it again, and focus on what you did right the day before or that game, and learn from that and move forward.”
With the offseason a week away, Martinez already has a program set up for what García will work on to improve before 2021 spring training:
Flexibility and agility: “Get quicker feet.”
Getting a little stronger: “He is still super young.”
Staying in his legs: “We really feel like when he stays in his legs as a hitter, he can hit the ball a long way, as we saw the home run he hit in Tampa. Sometimes he gets very handsy. We want him to use his legs more. We talk to him about that.”
Fielding: “We talked to him about different ways of fielding with the shifting and all that stuff. He knows he needs to work on that.”
Baserunning: “I told him, ‘You don’t have to be really fast to be a good baserunner. I want you to be the best baserunner that you could possibly be. When you come to spring training next year, understand when you have a chance to go first to third, we want you to take that. But we want you to know how to do it, when to do it.’
“We talked a little bit about him getting some at-bats in winter ball if there is a winter ball. Just some (so) he could get a few more at-bats and then shut him down and give him a break and then get ready for spring training. We just want to make sure we keep eyes on him.”
Martinez is also planning to visit and work with García - and possibly even teammates like Soto, Raudy Read and Wander Suero - in the Dominican Republic and give them his hands-on approach and program to be ready for next season.
“My plans are hopefully this year to make it down to the Dominican Republic for a week and watch these guys and actually work a week with them so they understand what they need to do coming in to spring training,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, it works out. Right now, I’m not apt to be flying commercially, but we will see how things work out.”