Two months after that photo was taken, Dave Martinez was not smiling so boldly. His Washington Nationals team was hurting, literally, and had an 18-26 record on the season. Maybe the luck of the Irish paid off for Davey along with his positive mental attitude that got him through calls for his head on the chopping block. In the manager’s discussion with Buster Olney on his Podcast, you will learn how Davey got through the stressful month of May and led his team to a World Series win.
Martinez was widely criticized for bringing camels to the 2018 Spring Training as a first year manager then he got back to basics with fewer gimmicks in his 2019 Spring Training camp. Yes, the Circle of Trust was back, but there were no camels or golfing off of the practice field. What Davey learned was that he did not have a hump to get over, and with so many new players on the 2019 squad who were not around for all of the disappointment from 2012 through 2018 — he only had Ryan Zimmerman as the common denominator from those teams that never got past the NLDS. While Stephen Strasburg played during the 2012 season, he was controversially — yet rightfully not on the 2012 postseason roster during his shutdown. From the 2019 squad, only Zim, Stras, Asdrubal Cabrera and Anthony Rendon were part of that 2014 postseason team. You get the point. This was not even the highest WAR rated team that general manager Mike Rizzo put together during 2019. The 2015 “Where’s My Ring” team was great on paper, and that team along with the 2016-2017 teams were the reason why Martinez was hired.
“Go out and win every inning” was the advice that Davey Martinez’s dad gave him in May as the team was struggling. That advice evolved into “Go 1-0 every day” and there you have some of what Dave Martinez spoke to Buster Olney about on this week’s Podcast. Davey felt that if the starting pitching held up while his position players got healthy that they had a chance. There was that time in May when Rendon, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner were all on the IL (injured list) at the same time. Davey mentioned Howie Kendrick as a consistent leader along with Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer. Yes, the veteran leadership was a key to this team that was the oldest team in the Majors.
During the Podcast, Davey spoke about how Turner was at the ballpark every day when he was on the IL and wanted to get back even though his broken fingers were not fully healed. Turner did come back too early and as we learned played with 8 1/2 fingers gripping the bat. His pointer finger required offseason surgery. The May acquisition of Gerardo Parra added that jolt of energy that the team had needed. It also did not hurt that Parra hit that grand slam in May to beat the Dodgers.
A mentor of Martinez was Bobby Cox who taught Martinez how to stay calm. It helped during that stretch in May when the team was 19-31, and dealing with the daily calls from a few media members and many fans that Davey should be removed.
The team did get healthy, and they started to win consistently. While they were just too far behind to make a serious run at the division crown, they were in thick of it as a Wild Card entry. The prevailing wisdom was just get into the postseason, and get some bounces to go their way as Zimmerman said and see what happens. They made it as the first Wild Card team that gave them home field for that game against the Brewers in a winner-take-all one game showdown. Martinez thought that the Nats clicked at the right time heading into the postseason, and he formulated plans like using Strasburg in the bullpen which was a key to winning that Wild Card game.
“This team never gives up,” is how Davey felt about the Wild Card game with his team behind 3-1 and All-Star closer Josh Hader pitching. When Juan Soto hit the single in the 8th inning with bases loaded to put the Nats ahead, the rightfielder, Trent Grisham, charged it and Davey described it as “the ball took a tricky bounce.” Maybe that is how you can describe the bounce as “tricky” or maybe it was divine intervention. That turned into the game winner but what happened at the start of the inning was important and Davey spoke about what was talked about with his batters before they faced Hader. It was also part of this TalkNats article written last month with words of strategy from hitting coach Kevin Long, and Davey talked on the Podcast about “keep working good at-bats, keep pounding, we’ll get a couple runs.” Long told them “hit the ball down in the strike zone. Stay in the strike zone and the boys did that.”
Davey turned very optimistic after the Wild Card game and told his coaches, “the boys are feeling it. This could be special.” Special it was. Buster Olney asked Davey about Bryce texting him during the postseason, and we learned that Bryce texted him a few times. Harper texted Davey, “Good luck. You guys got this. Go get ’em.” From my own perspective, that was quite the revelation and much respect to Bryce for doing that.
They spoke on the Podcast at how special Juan Soto is and the clutch hits he has had in his young career.
“I’ve never seen a kid that young be so poised and know the strike zone,” Davey said of Soto. “He is going to be an unbelievable player.”
They played audio clips from key games. On Kendrick’s grand slam to beat the Dodgers, Chip Hale was in the bathroom. People questioned why Davey had kept Howie in games, and there you go — you saw why. That 10th inning grand slam once again showed how Davey just pushed the right buttons. Kendrick had four defensive miscues in that Dodgers series, and yes, there were some media calls to bench Howie, and we all know that Howie and Soto and Rendon were the three most consistent bats throughout the postseason.
On Howie’s home run off of the foul pole in Game 7, Davey wants a piece of that foul pole. He said he has the perfect place for it and would share it with Howie. Davey reiterated that Howie was the “voice of the clubhouse”.
During this #StayAtHome period of COVID-19, Davey is living now at his 350 acre farm in Nashville, and he is doing a lot of carpentry work on his home with his free time. He said he learned construction from his father and his uncle.
You will learn a lot more listening to the Podcast.