When Davey Martinez woke up on the morning of Friday, May 24, the Nationals were on pace to secure the fifth overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. They trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by 10 games for the lead in their division and had allowed more runs than any other team in the National League.
Faced with long odds to salvage their season and make the playoffs, Martinez soon after sent a message to his players: Go 1-0 every day. Martinez didn’t want the team getting caught up in how far behind they were in the standings, so he made an effort to keep the focus on winning the game at hand and not worrying about the rest.
It became the team’s mantra, a battle cry it rallied behind as it went on to secure a Wild Card berth and win its first World Series title in franchise history.
Now tasked with defending that title, Martinez plans to bring back the “Go 1-0 every day” approach for 2020. In fact, the Nationals have already begun implementing the slogan into their marketing campaign to get fans excited about the upcoming season.
“We went 1-0 all year,” Martinez told reporters at the Winter Meetings in December. “The message is going to be clear: Hey, we’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year, that’s for sure. So we’ve got to be ready to go from day one. With that being said, I want them to understand, hey, we’re going to do business like we’ve done in the past, and we’re just going to try to go 1-0 every day.
“Why change something that works?”
It certainly worked for the Nationals, though the club also didn’t begin using that approach until the end of May. If employed over the course of an entire 162-game season, is it sustainable enough where the team isn’t spent by the end of the year?
“I think that’s a pretty simple approach,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said at WinterFest. “With this game, you don’t want to look too far into the future. You take care of what’s happening today. It’s not just baseball, it’s in life too, you just take care of today. You wake up today and take care of today. And I think that’s just such a simple mantra to go by, where it’s not all this ‘rah rah’ stuff, it’s, ‘Hey, just win the day,’ how it is, and just go after it from there.”
For the first half of the season, closer Sean Doolittle was Martinez’s sole reliable reliever at the back end of the bullpen. But as Martinez managed as if every contest was a must-win game, Doolittle began to feel the effects of overuse. After posting a 2.81 ERA over his first 49 appearances, Doolittle struggled in August. His fastball became hittable (.400 opponents’ batting average in August) and he blew a couple saves, forcing the Nationals to put him on the Injured List.
Although Doolittle returned to form in time for the playoffs, the Nationals might not have gotten there if midseason acquisition Daniel Hudson didn’t successfully take over the closer role in Doolittle’s stead.
“The mentality, absolutely,” Doolittle said of the sustainability of the approach. “I think you have to have that if you’re going to have success over the course of a long season, just cause there’s so many ups and downs. There’s so much adversity, and there’s so much failure just inherently in the game of baseball that you have to be able to turn the page after a bad game and a bad outing and come to the field the next day ready to win that game.
“I think, again, that’s one of those good problems to have. The workload that I had in the beginning part of the season, it meant that we were in those games, we were winning those games late and we had a chance to put Ws up.”
However, Doolittle wasn’t the only one who was relied on with such frequency. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg both ranked among the top seven pitchers in the majors in pitches per start, while Patrick Corbin finished 12th. Although those numbers can be chalked to the team’s ineffective bullpen—an area the team focused on improving this offseason—the high usage seeped into the offense as well.
From May 12 to Sept. 25, Juan Soto played in 118 games and had just one game off. After returning from the Injured List on May 18, Trea Turner played in all but one game the rest of the season. Anthony Rendon had only one game off after May 8. Victor Robles missed just three games over the final three months of the season.
The Nationals will go into the 2020 season with more position player depth than they’ve had in recent years, particularly in the infield. But after the pitching staff was taxed deep into October, workloads will be an important factor. Martinez can hone his players’ focus in on the game at hand. Yet if he continues to manage with the “Go 1-0 every day” approach in mind, the team may find its depth tested earlier than it might like.
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