SAN DIEGO -- Quiet finally settled over the downtown Hyatt in San Diego on Thursday morning. The baseball industry packed, then left, leaving behind every imaginable facet of the pro machine. Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke Wednesday and a report trying to explain fluctuations with the baseball was delivered. All 30 managers held media sessions across the three days. Recent graduates hunted starts to front office futures. Clubhouse attendants held a meeting of their brethren. Everyone was perpetually stuck in the slow-moving elevators.
In essence, the Nationals’ defense of their World Series title started in southern California while these events transpired around them. They made an enormous move by signing Stephen Strasburg. They continued to manage the third base market, watching warily as they tried to figure out how not to be left short after Anthony Rendon signed a long-term contract with Anaheim and the frenzy for Josh Donaldson began. The Nationals also still need bullpen help.
In addition, a new battle against complacency exists. What’s happening for the Nationals is an offseason unlike any other because they won, and its fresh dynamics include convincing someone full he is still hungry. Ways to do that? Subtle changed mixed with standard procedures. They hope.
Next season always comes calling, loaded with the same 162-game grind, even for those teams who were still pitching on Halloween. Recent champions -- in particular the Nationals -- deployed their starting pitchers differently in the postseason en route to a title. Patrick Corbin made three postseason starts and came out of the bullpen five times. An injection coupled with a chiropractic rescue enabled Max Scherzer’s Game 7 start. Stephen Strasburg threw more pitches than anyone in baseball.
Boston eased its pitchers into the 2019 season and appeared to pay for it. Their starters rarely threw in spring training games after winning a championship. Three of them threw seven innings or fewer in games during the Grapefruit season. Scherzer threw 26 and 26 ⅔ innings, respectively, the last two spring trainings. So, Mike Rizzo expects standard programming in West Palm Beach, not additional rest.
“I just think that we remind them what we do this stuff for and the elation that we had I think is still going to be with us and for us to feel that way again, we know what it takes to get there,” Rizzo said. “It’s a long hard road and it’s a lot of work. It starts Day 1 spring training and ends the last game. That’s going to be our outlook. We’re going to prepare for spring training like we have every other year. We’re not going to be complacent because we played an extra month of baseball. We’re not going to make any adjustments for preparation of our pitchers.”
Davey Martinez made adjustments. He swung his coaching staff around, moving Bob Henley to first base, Chip Hale to third and Tim Bogar to bench coach. Why? In part to reboot the holdover staff before they begin working with the players.
“Complacency,” Martinez said. “Everybody talks about those World Series blues, and that’s one thing we don’t want. We don’t want to be complacent. There’s going to be a target on our back, so we’ve got to come out and be ready to play from day one. We want these guys to understand that. We’re not just going to sit around and say: ‘Well, we’ve got plenty of time.’ No, the time is from day one. We’re going to get ready for the season, and hopefully do it again.”
Martinez will work with the same premise at spring training: go 1-0. He can still ride other sayings -- like “win your day” -- but the large white flag which said “Conquer” in red letters and traveled with the team is probably due for retirement. “Stay in the fight” fell with the end of the regular season. “Fight finished” isn’t phrasing which can carry to a new season.
“The message is going to be clear: Hey, we're not going to sneak up on anybody this year, that's for sure,” Martinez said. “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?”
Why change? That’s the question, and the answer for the defending champions seems to be they don’t want to. Get ready. Stay ready. Try to do it again as if it never happened.
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