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Nationals bring back the ‘Go 1-0 every day’ approach, but is it sustainable?

Nationals bring back the ‘Go 1-0 every day’ approach, but is it sustainable?

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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Juan Soto activated, but not in the Nationals' lineup vs. Mets

Juan Soto activated, but not in the Nationals' lineup vs. Mets

Juan Soto is not in the lineup. Yet.

He was reinstated from the COVID injured list to the active roster Tuesday. That’s a step. But, Soto is not in the Tuesday night lineup against the New York Mets and left-hander Steven Matz.

“He’s getting there,” Davey Martinez said. “I just want to make sure that we keep him healthy. We got him back and want to keep him healthy. He’s going to hit [Tuesday], he’s going to take some more ground balls in the field. Run a little bit more today. We’ll see where he’s at.

“I talked to him [Monday] night and he really felt like he could probably use another day or two. Said his legs felt a little heavy. His arm was a little sore. He tried to ramp it up -- we gave him the last four days, he’s probably got about 20 at-bats. In that respect he doesn’t feel that bad. But I want to make sure, like I said, we keep him healthy. We just got him back. He missed a lot of time. So we just want to make sure when he’s here now, he’s here to help us every day.”

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Martinez had to remind Soto the designated hitter is now an option in the National League. Which means the Nationals could start him in that spot or use it to give him a break.

Andrew Stevenson was optioned to the alternate training site to make room for Soto on the roster. Josh Harrison is playing left field in Soto’s place Tuesday.

Reliever Wander Suero was also activated Tuesday and is available if need be.

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Davey Martinez wishes Nationals just kept playing after Marlins outbreak

Davey Martinez wishes Nationals just kept playing after Marlins outbreak

WASHINGTON -- They played five innings -- sort of -- Saturday. Then six more -- sort of -- Sunday.

What the Nationals didn’t do was play the Miami Marlins for three games after appearing to wake up in back-to-back wins against Toronto last week. The weekend series against Miami was postponed while Major League Baseball’s scheduling complications persisted amid playing baseball in a pandemic.

The Nationals took Friday off, played two simulated games over the weekend, then took Monday off (though coming to the park was a voluntary option). Just seven games into the season, they were again stalled out, dealing with the replication of an All-Star break seven days after getting started. The short ramp up to the season stole chances to improve timing and get up to game speed. The break pushed both back, too.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, we much rather would have been playing,” Davey Martinez said Sunday. “The bats started coming around. The last two games [we] started playing fairly well. We got this little lull, but we’ve done everything we possibly can to get ready.

“Trying to keep these guys going. Keep their at-bats going. It’s tough not having that game speed, that actual adrenaline playing other teams. But, the boys are doing good.”

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Reliever Tanner Rainey needed the break after five appearances in seven games. And, Juan Soto, expected back Tuesday night, needed the time to do every baseball activity possible. Saturday, he hit all day, then ran the bases. Sunday, he stayed in left field for all six simulated innings. He was twice restricted to his apartment for quarantine in July. He’s behind. His absence was glaring. So now Soto is trying to hustle back.

When everyone returns to rain-soaked Nationals Park on Tuesday, they will see a longtime division rival, the New York Mets, in what has become a typical state. The Mets were the story across baseball Monday when outfielder and designated hitter Yoenis Céspedes decided to stop participating in the season because of COVID-19 concerns, but did not initially tell the Mets. He just decided not to show up. Or so the Mets said.

The Mets don’t even have this straight.

“There’s two sides of the story,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo told reporters. “We have the side where [the Mets] were let known before the game [Sunday] and we’ve also heard the side where they weren’t let known until the eighth inning, so I honestly don’t know which one to believe and I’m not going to try to figure that one out, but as far as us, we knew that people could walk whenever they wanted.”

Recall the Mets’ situation in late-May of 2019: The Nationals arrived at Citi Field for a four-game series. The Mets held a press conference before the series began to explain that Céspedes had suffered a “violent” fall from a horse on his ranch (the story evolved into an exchange with a wild boar which led to  Céspedes’ ankle fracture). General manager Brodie Van Wagenan also used the press conference to give then-manager Mickey Callaway a vote of confidence. The Mets were a mess -- until they swept the four games from the Nationals in a new stunning way, day after day. Then, it was Martinez who needed the public reassurance from his general manager.

The eventual ending was better for the Nationals.

Tuesday night starts just a two-game series. Patrick Corbin pitches for the Nationals. Steven Matz pitches for the Mets. Washington is trying to get its act together. The Mets are...well, the Mets. Sounds familiar.

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