Dave Martinez’s job is to develop Nats players. How is that to be rated?


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The job Dave Martinez took on in the fall of 2017 was clear: win a World Series. The job he’s aiming for in Spring 2023 is…well, let’s just say it’s different. How can you downshift – mentally, professionally, proudly?

“Honestly, two things that really come out for me every day,” Martinez said the other day while a comforting candle burned on his desk. “I’m always like, ‘Hey, you have to stick to the process. No doubt. It teaches now and I love teaching.

“The second is patience. You have to have a lot of patience.”

“Yes,” and he sighed. “To an extent.”

In 2018, Martinez went 82-80 in his freshman year as manager of the Washington Nationals — and was ruled a failure. Should he reach 82-80 in the coming year, he would be a wizard. He won a World Series in 2019. Last summer he lost 107 games. He’s the same person with the same title he had when he was hired – and a completely different task in front of him.

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“For me, it’s seeing what happens,” Martinez said. “People who have been here, who have been watching, come up to me and they’re like, ‘Davey, what you’re doing, the positive feedback, the basics of how you go about your day – we love it. ‘ That’s important to me.”

But it’s not enough either. For this season to be a success, the Nationals who open the season on March 30 at Nationals Park against Atlanta must not be the same Nationals who end the season in Atlanta on October 1. You have to get better. Not in the records – although that would help. But basically. In better developed skills. In meaningful experience. In full productivity. In a subtle and obvious way.

“Sometimes the only way to grow is through mistakes, through tough times,” said Tim Bogar, Martinez bench coach, who also coaches the Nats’ infielders alongside Gary DiSarcina. “I think we all grow from our trials. So that’s part of it. You will be successful and you will grow from it.

“But the bottom line is, it’s really hard to say they’re not succeeding when sometimes we’re down a run from the other team. Sometimes.”

Remember 2019, starting 19-31 and Martinez’s promise to go 1-0 every day? It articulated a mentality and became a mantra worthy of being printed on t-shirts.

But what happens when you know – realistically – that you’re going to go 0-1 days longer than 1-0? Maybe many more?

“There are hundreds of 1-0 opportunities every day,” said Bogar.

“It’s a win if MacKenzie Gore or Josiah Gray gets 21 outs in a game,” Martinez said. “It’s a win where CJ Abrams gave up to pass a guy. It’s a win when someone says, “Hey, I don’t feel good on my plate. This guy’s pretty tough, I can burn for a hit.’ For me this is a win. And then they start to multiply.”

So there is the standard. During last year’s battle for last place, which cratered to San Diego with Juan Soto’s trade, the Nationals played absolutely absurd baseball for about a month. They threw away pickoff attempts. They had thrown two runners in third place – in the same game. Their best defensive play of a week — or maybe a month — was center fielder Victor Robles’ dive stop a faulty throw on the second.

The Nats finally cleaned it up. Now, with the talented Abrams at shortstop and Luis García in second—among other changes—they should be in a better position to play clean baseball. You can judge that by just turning on the TV or walking through the turnstiles. However, there will be elements of Martinez’s work that we won’t be able to see.

“We’re evaluating it on how the plan is being implemented,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “We talk two or three times a day about what we’re trying to accomplish this week, this month, this year. I think you have to gauge how he’s doing by the daily interactions. And that might not be all on the field. It could be on the plane. It could be at dinner.”

In a spring game this month against Miami at Jupiter, Abrams launched an easy double-play ball in the first and muffed another that later went for one instead of two. But in the same breath he made a brilliant jump stop of a liner and, even more impressively, ran down a pitch when the hitter dribbled a grounder to the left – and easily rounded second to slip into third.

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“There aren’t many guys in the league that do that and he did it with ease,” Bogar said of Abrams’ jump from first to third. “Well, those two routine balls that he didn’t execute, that’s a lesson that we addressed the next day. …

“You can’t just beat them up for little things. It will affect their confidence.”

Martinez isn’t into spanking her. But just because overall expectations aren’t what they’ve been in Washington for the better part of a decade doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a standard. Does Abrams learn from this lesson? Does Garcia? Has catcher Keibert Ruiz?

“If the question is, how is Dave Martinez?” said Rizzo. “He’s doing great. He does everything we ask of him.”

But what Martinez ultimately wants to do is not The. It’s about winning.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, I want to win here. Here‘ he said, sitting down on his desk for emphasis. He almost collapsed. “I could maybe go somewhere else and win if I had the opportunity. I want to win here. It means more to me here. It would come full circle.”

Oh, for a year a manager could go 82-80 – and be disappointed. Oh, for a season where that 1-0 was possible 95 times today instead of 70 times. This was once the world of Dave Martinez. This world has changed. The rating of him and his staff is currently not available in the overall rating. And if the players who take the field are better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning, the job Martinez faces next spring may be more like the job that brought him to Washington.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/03/17/dave-martinez-nationals-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Dave Martinez’s job is to develop Nats players. How is that to be rated?

Ian Walker

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