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Davey Martinez opens up about Baby Shark, team’s rough start and Scherzer

Davey Martinez opens up about Baby Shark, team’s rough start and Scherzer

PITTSBURGH -- Nationals manager Davey Martinez sat down with NBC Sports Washington for an exclusive 1-on-1 conversation Thursday. Washington’s manager talked about Max Scherzer’s return, the team’s resurgence, if he thought he would be fired in May and the rules in place when it comes to celebrations.

NBCSW: Did you think at the All-Star break it would take this long for Scherzer to be up and running?

Martinez: For us, we wanted to make sure when he comes back, that he’s back. And we went through all the necessary process to get him to where he’s at now, which is to feel really, really good. I’ll monitor him [Thursday]. Hopefully we’ll get him through [Thursday] and he’ll feel good [Friday].

Let’s go back to the first two months of the season. A lot was happening. You often rewatch games afterward. What was going through your mind when you saw some of the mistakes and play, at that point?

It was a constant reminder we have to come in every day and teach. At that point, we were fairly young. We had a lot of guys that were injured. We were young. Our bullpen wasn’t doing well, but we were still fairly young. The guys we were using at the back end, the Sueros, we called [Tanner] Rainey up...we had to be patient. That’s something I learned over the years of my playing career, learned from Joe [Maddon], you’ve got to stick to the process and be patient. This thing will usually turn around. But the biggest thing is keep teaching. We often had meetings with the coaches about that. Just bring that energy every day, keep teaching and stick to the process. Biggest thing is stay positive and we’ll get out of this. Here we are today, fighting for a playoff spot and having a lot of fun. 

In Philadelphia in early May, you said privately, “When we get healthy, we’re going to take off.” Why did you believe that after what happened in the first two months and not being able to do that last year?

I really felt with the chemistry of this team, when we get our guys back, things were actually going to… you could see signs, that the guys when they were playing, they were starting to mature a little bit. They were starting to get it. The things we were trying to teach, they were actually applying in the games and being successful at it. I always thought that once our regular guys got back, and our lineup was the way it should be, that we’d start playing better and start winning a lot more games than losing games. And the games that we were losing, we’d end up winning those games. I truly believed that. I believed in those guys in the clubhouse, the veteran guys, to keep everything together. They did that. Like I said, here we are today with a good opportunity to make the postseason and playing for something.

The No. 1 target when things go bad is you, the manager. Were there any days in May you wondered if you would be around to watch a turnaround?

No. Even last year, when we started off slowly, I -- you heard rumblings, you know? Which I don’t really pay attention to because I have a job to do. I never once thought it. I said, I’m going to come every day, show up, do my job. At the end of the day, hope we’re on top, have a ‘W’. Every day, it’s the same thing. As I always talk about, let’s go 1-0 today. That’s my biggest thing: stick to the here and now. Never once did I doubt my leadership or what I do. I always said, be true to you. That’s what I tell the players and I’ve always done that. I’ve never turned on those guys in there. I was always true to me, I was always positive. Pumping them up, never got crazy negative. Had my conversations, but stayed with them. Like I said, we’re here today having fun and playing really well.

Do you feel like that mindset allows you to walk away pleased with how you conducted yourself no matter the outcome?

Yeah, 100 percent. This game, and every day, you learn more and more about the guys you have and what they can do. I don’t really worry about what they can’t do. I’ve always said that. When we teach, we take what they can do the best and make them the best they can possibly be in that and you typically see the negatives ease their way out and just let them play. It’s been true to that. We’re looking at guys playing the way they’re capable of playing and not really focused on the negative stuff.

Anthony Rendon just hit the 100 RBI total. He is in the final year of his contract. Have you started a GoFundMe for his next contract?

[Laughs] As I often tell him, he’s a true professional. Things will take care of itself. For me, I want you back, obviously. No doubt about it. Keep playing the way you’re playing. Things will take care of themselves.

Feels like the dugout dancing and ‘Baby Shark’ fun is the kind of fun and relaxation you were trying to instill when you arrived, but has organically developed this year. What have you made of all this?

When the whole dance thing started, I thought it was fine. They stuck with it. Bringing in [Gerardo] Parra, I knew [he] was a veteran guy. A good clubhouse guy. He brings a lot of fun. A lot of energy. But yet, he’s a professional -- plays the game the right way, plays hard -- that he’d be good for some of our younger Latin players, as well. And he’s been all that. Like I said, he brings that fun. When it comes to the dancing stuff, honestly, I try not to watch [laughs]. Because I don’t want to answer questions about who has the best dance moves or anything like that. Honestly, right now I can’t say.

You’ve been insistent that celebrations happen in the dugout. Do you feel this is still in a good place?

Yeah, it’s about us. A couple of times early in the season, they tried to do it out in front of the dugout. I would not allow that. For me, I don’t approve of that. If you want to do something, we’re in the dugout, we’re not trying to show anybody up. And we’re just trying to stay loose and have fun, and that’s what they’re doing. That stuff I don’t mind. 

It’s almost September. If you were told in May you would be in a good spot now, you would have said what?

I would have said, at this point in time I would like to be eight or nine games up. But, we’re fighting. We’re staying in the fight. That’s what I ask these guys to do, stay in the fight every day. And the boys are doing that. Everybody keeps asking me...these guys are resilient. I say, yeah, they’re relentless. They don’t quit. They got to play until that last out. It’s a lot of fun. They believe they can make it happen and we’re all on board. 

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The ageless Fernando Rodney to reportedly play in Dominican Winter League

The ageless Fernando Rodney to reportedly play in Dominican Winter League

Only one player in the major leagues threw a pitch while over the age of 40 last season. Fernando Rodney, who in fact is 42 and coming off his first ever World Series title, has appeared in at least 50 games each of the last eight years and 10 of the last 11.

For a player who’s three years older than the second-oldest active pitcher, taking the offseason off wouldn’t just be expected—it’d probably be recommended. But Rodney is taking no such break, reportedly signing up for the Dominican Winter League this offseason.

Leones del Escogido plays in his hometown of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This will actually be the fifth time Rodney will suit up for the team, most recently doing so last winter.

Rodney is a free agent after being picked up by the Nationals midseason. He’s played 17 years in the majors and ranks 17th all-time in saves with 327.

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How big of a priority is filling the hole at second base for the Nationals?

How big of a priority is filling the hole at second base for the Nationals?

When the Nationals entered the offseason, they had significant needs at seven different areas of the roster: catcher, first base, second base, third base, rotation, bullpen and bench.

Washington made strides toward solidifying the first two by inking catcher Yan Gomes and first baseman Howie Kendrick to separate deals over the first five weeks of the offseason. But with former stars Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon both still on the board, there are still many different directions the Nationals could go this winter.

On this week’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast, NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas sat down with Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post and MLB.com’s Jamal Collier to talk about the team’s offseason plans. With the needs the Nationals have in so many areas, the writers agreed Washington didn’t need to prioritize second base.

“Second base, to me, feels like it would probably be the last thing on my checklist if I’m the Nats,” Collier said. “You’re going to operate on some kind of budget and you have to spend money on re-signing [Stephen] Strasburg, figuring out whatever you’re going to do at third base…and you have to do something with this bullpen as well.”

Right now, the Nationals have top prospect Carter Kieboom as a potential option to take the starting job out of Spring Training. They also have veteran utility players Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez on the roster, but neither has been able to produce consistently on the offensive end.

“I would probably band-aid it with probably a cheaper option than Brian Dozier,” Dougherty said. “Maybe even give Carter the shot but have a veteran behind him…César Hernández makes a ton of sense to me. He’s a switch hitter, he can play multiple positions, you have a hole at utility player.”

Dybas also mentioned Starlin Castro as a potential option. Castro played all 162 games for the Miami Marlins last season, hitting .270 with a career-high 22 home runs. He’ll be 30 years old on Opening Day and was lauded by his former club for his clubhouse presence.

One potential option that came off the board in recent weeks was Mike Moustakas, who inked a four-year, $64 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds. A natural third baseman, Moustakas played 47 games at second for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and is now entrenched there for the Reds moving forward with Eugenio Suarez playing third.

“I hate that Moustakas deal,” Collier said. The Reds are “putting him out of position. He’s not a second baseman. So you’re getting worse defensively for a guy who’s pretty much all power. We don’t know what the shape of the ball is going to be [and] he’s only getting older.”

It was certainly a high price tag, which likely took the Nationals out of the running if second base is an area the team is hoping to save money on. But they also could’ve signed Moustakas to play third, a position that is remarkably light on talent in free agency.

For the full episode, which also includes discussions about Rendon and Strasburg’s prospects of returning to Washington, you can find the Nationals Talk podcast at Art19, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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