If Javy Guerra makes it back today, there should be all 71 players in the Circle of Trust to kick-off the first team workout for the 2021 Washington Nationals. Manager Dave Martinez said the doors for the facility at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is open daily at 6:30 AM, and players are lined up to enter. There is a new intensity at camp this year. Yesterday was the position players deadline to report to camp leading to this full team workout today ahead of the first Spring Training game next Sunday against the Cardinals.
“These guys are hungry. They’re ready,” Martinez said. “We set the precedent this winter about coming into Spring Training in shape. I’m walking around watching these guys, and they really look good. It’s nice when you have a group of guys like this.”
“It starts with us, you got to bring the energy. … For us we can’t have a bad day. Stay positive. Keep pushing these guys. We’re there for them.”
“Our veteran guys really really take our young guys and really try to help them as much as they can. … The future is bright here. People talk about a ‘window window window.’ I don’t see that window here. I just see us continuing to grow together and to continue to get better.”
One of the critical parts that has to change is the slow starts for Martinez’s teams. In 2018, they started April at an 11-16 record, and the last two years the team began with identical 19-31 records. Actually the 2020 team was 19-32 through the first 51 games, and they could not come back from that in a 60-game truncated season. Martinez has talked about starting off quicker with more success.
“I want these guys to understand that the last week or 10 days of Spring Training — they might play 7, 8, 9 innings, and really stretch them out and make that last 10 days that feel like, hey, this is when the season starts,” Martinez said. “Get them ready to go right away. So we plan on doing that. It all depends on how they’re feeling, and where we’re at. We’re going to try to get them as ready as possible for Day 1. I want to try to make them May 1st ready come April 1st. That’s kind of our goal and has always been our goal, but we’re definitely emphasizing it a lot more.”
Again, May 1st probably is not when this team has found its next gear. No season is created the same. The Nats lost their sparkplug, Trea Turner in the 4th game of the 2019 season and fell flat until finding the winning ways in the 51st game of that season on their way to a World Series championship. The team lost Stephen Strasburg last year after 5.0 innings of work and never found their groove until it was too late. In 2018, the team got off to a quick start, and Howie Kendrick blew out his achilles after 40 games. No season starts the same. But a quick positive start would be nice to build on. A healthy and starting pitching staff feels like a key.
“[The ball] is pretty much been feeling great and coming out [of my hand] really well,” Strasburg said. “I think, if anything, all the work I’ve done strengthening it has only improved the movement of my pitches.”
“I’ve really worked hard with our P.T. [physical therapy] staff all offseason to strengthen everything around it. It’s definitely felt a lot better than it had for all last year.”
“Endurance-wise, stamina-wise, I feel like I’m a lot further along than … in years past,”
Strasburg would not be the type to claim he is in the “Best Shape Of His Life” but there are plenty of candidates out there who have been spotted. Early reports and photos have shown some bulked up players and some who have slimmed down like Victor Robles who Martinez said is back to his 2019 weight. Four prospects got special mention from Martinez on who has impressed him in early camp, and he named: Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge, Seth Romero and Ben Braymer.
“As of right now I will continue to stretch out in the starter’s role,” Braymer told us. “I like to have the ability to fill-in as needed [starter or reliever]. That’s probably how the team looks at me to an extent. … If a different role comes up that needs to be filled — I think I would have an opportunity to fill it.”
The key of course is being ready and staying healthy with the key players as well as a good clubhouse. That 2018 clubhouse supposedly was not a great one. In 2019, Rizzo built the team with veterans who put team before self. One of the veterans on that 2019 squad was Brian Dozier who just retired a few days ago. He spoke about the great Nats clubhouse.
“I think being the oldest team in baseball,” Dozier said. “And just to see everyone come together. … I don’t anyone can have the camaraderie that we had with that  team.”
As General Manager Mike Rizzo says, he only acquires players now who fit as great clubhouse guys. From that perspective, this roster looks like a good mix of players. This 2021 team will have a tough schedule to start the season. Their first dozen games of the season will be against projected playoff teams with the season opening series against the Mets followed by the Braves, Dodgers, and Cardinals. As they say, the goal is to go at least .500 against the good teams and then dominate the cellar dwellers. It all begins with getting back to top form and staying healthy and productive out of the gates.