At break, Martinez chooses to see positive possibilities for Nats

Ever the optimist, Nationals manager Davey Martinez will pause during the All-Star break to take stock of his team. However, he won’t spend much time rehashing the injuries that have made roster management a daily challenge, the long stretches of ineffective offense and what might have happened had he had a healthy pitching staff for the season’s half.

When Martinez says he looks at the present and future, he’s not just whistling in the wind. That’s the only way he’s survived a challenging first half that saw the Nats finish with a 42-47 record, fourth place in the National League East and six games off the pace of the first-place Mets.

“Focus on coming back and finishing up the second half, and start off the second half and finish up strong,” Martinez said via Zoom on Sunday when asked what his message to the Nats at the break was. “We played well for a while there. We battled a lot of injuries, but we’re still in this thing. Not by any means do we feel like we’re out of it. We’re very positive going forward. Hopefully, we get everybody healthy here real soon, we keep playing and we end up where we need to end up - and that’s headed to the playoffs.”

His team has weathered a COVID-19 outbreak that gutted the roster just as the season started and a stretch when injured list placements seemed to be happening every day or two. But this season’s challenges, however immense, don’t seem that daunting to Martinez.

Those occupational hazards, Martinez continues to espouse, are just bumps in the road that must be overcome. And that doesn’t happen should his team dwell on its misfortunes and shortcomings.

Thumbnail image for Martinez-Claps-Blue-WS-G2-Sidebar.jpg“For me, I’ve had to focus on the day-to-day,” he said. “And I try to focus on the here and now. Things happen, we all know that. I’ve been in this game for a very long time and I’ve seen a lot. It’s unfortunate that’s part of the game. I understand that and I try to keep the players positive about that. You know things are going to happen that we can’t control. We need to control the controllables.”

The Nationals ended June on a 16-2 run that vaulted them into second place in the division, then promptly lost nine of their next 11 games. Now Martinez wants his charges to recharge their batteries during the break and get ready to begin what he hopes will be an improved second half.

While admitting that the four-game break “came at the right time for us,” Martinez said what the Nationals need to do beginning with Friday’s home series against the Padres is hardly a mystery.

“We need to continue to (have) our offense start clicking and our starting pitching needs to get better and go deeper in games,” he said. “Our bullpen has done well, but they’ve been used a lot. ... If I had to say we had to improve on something, we need to get some depth out of our starting pitching and go deeper in games. If we can do that, we’ll keep our bullpen sound. We’re going to take off again, I know we are. The offense has been scoring runs, so hopefully we continue to do that as well.”

As they wait for their injured players to heal and focus on the intradivisional games that will determine who takes the NL East, the Nationals can’t help but wonder what might have been had a COVID-19 outbreak not decimated more than a third of the roster that headed north from spring training in late March.

“Opening day was kind of a slap in the face for us, with everybody getting put on the COVID list,” Martinez said. “And we battled back to where we are now, so I’m proud of these guys. We could have fallen flat on our faces and these guys didn’t let it happen. I wouldn’t let it happen.”

Patchwork lineups, a rotation that’s had to be “McGyver”-ed together, an offense that seemed to take off when Kyle Schwarber started slugging homers out of the leadoff spot and a resurgence by Juan Soto late in the first half - all are part of the Nationals’ first half. But don’t expect Martinez to do anything but accentuate the positive and keep cheerleading for his team.

The Nats went from 19-31 in 2019 to a World Series championship, so history has shown that anything - even the highly improbable - is possible.

That may be selective perception to some. But for Martinez, the man who coined the mantra of “Go 1-0 every day,” it’s become a way of life.

He acknowledges the past, but doesn’t dwell on it, preferring to look hopefully toward the future. Whatever comes down the road, he insists his team has been battle-tested and prepared to face - and possibly conquer - any adversity.

“We have played good baseball,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, the injury bug is past us and we get our guys back and we look forward.”

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