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Scott Boras: Davey Martinez gave ‘a real lesson’ in how to believe in his players

Scott Boras: Davey Martinez gave ‘a real lesson’ in how to believe in his players

When the Nationals stumbled out to a 19-31 start to last season, Davey Martinez didn’t panic.

He was only in his second season as an MLB manager, but Martinez had a roster of players far more talented than what its record was leading others to believe. Amid swirling rumors about his job status and the future of the franchise, Martinez trusted that his players would be able to turn things around.

Five months later, those very same players took down the Houston Astros in seven games to win D.C. a World Series title for the first time since 1924. Longtime baseball agent Scott Boras, who represented several stars for Washington such as Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, was among those who was particularly impressed with the way Martinez kept his clubhouse together.

Boras talked with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes on Friday’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast about what stood out to him when it came to Martinez’s approach.

“I really credit Davey Martinez because the one message he kept giving everyone was a true lack of concern for the moment and trusting very much about who all those players were,” Boras said. “Every player brought that to my attention at the end of the year, where this was not a compromised manager.

“This was not someone who questioned who we were. It was not someone who showed up and was really making more out of the future other than, ‘Be who you are today and go forward.’”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

With sports pushed to the side while the world grips with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, fans have a lot of more important things on their minds than baseball right now. Yet Boras felt that Martinez’s approach was something everyone should try to emulate when dealing with the uncertainty that the future holds.

“It’s a real lesson for a lot of people,” Boras said. “I think particularly when you’re in an environment, ironically that’s in Washington, D.C., [with] what we’re going through with this pandemic and the focus on our leadership and our country…we really have to make sure that we’re looking about what’s within and not looking about the vague aspects of what the future may bring.

“The Washington Nationals represented their city and our country really well with that message.”

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Nationals’ Plan A is for their starters to be ramped up by Opening Day

Nationals’ Plan A is for their starters to be ramped up by Opening Day

After overcoming a 19-31 start to last season, the Nationals have fielded questions all offseason asking how they plan to get off to a good start in order to avoid needing another midseason turnaround. Though there is likely no singular answer to those questions, there is one aspect of their roster that could give them an advantage in the first few weeks of the season.

As a franchise that’s been repeatedly self-described by general manager Mike Rizzo as a “pitching-first organization,” the Nationals’ success in 2020 will largely hinge on the health and effectiveness of their starting rotation. For some teams, such a reliance on starters could spell trouble when pitchers only have a few weeks of training camp to get ready for Opening Day.

But Nationals manager Davey Martinez put together a training program in March for his starting pitchers to follow at home while the season was on hold. Now, with just 11 days to go before the Nationals open the season against the New York Yankees on June 23, Martinez is pleased with how far along his starters are in their process of building up their arms for the start of the 60-game campaign.

“I’m very encouraged that they followed what we put together for them during the off time,” Martinez said Sunday. “They came in prepared to go and they came in in good shape and it makes things a lot easier when nobody put on 15, 20 pounds. They were all in good shape so they’ve looked good so far.”

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The Nationals’ rotation is already approaching pitch counts it wouldn’t normally see until midway through spring training. Max Scherzer threw 48 pitches in his first sim game last week. Stephen Strasburg tossed 52 on Friday while Patrick Corbin pushed his pitch count up to 43 on Saturday in his first taste of facing live hitters. Even Aníbal Sánchez, the oldest of them all, has already had two outings with over 60 pitches since returning to Nationals Park.

If their top four arms are all prepared to throw 100+ pitches by the start of the season, the Nationals would be in a much better spot than other teams that are bracing for an uptick in bullpen usage while their pitchers use their first few starts to get back up to full strength.

In a normal year, most starters don’t even typically reach an average of 100 pitches per start. Only 10 qualified starters did it last season and three played for Washington: Scherzer (102.6), Strasburg (102.5) and Corbin (100). That advantage was already important in a 162-game season. When applied to a 60-game slate, it becomes all the more vital.

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“Just [trying] to continue to try and build up and ramp this up as best we can and obviously things are different for everybody so we’re just trying to make sure we’re ready to go once the games that count start,” Corbin said Sunday.

While Martinez doesn’t rule out the idea of pulling pitchers earlier than they might like early on, he also said that such a task is easier said than done when dealing with the personalities of some of his top arms.

“We’re going to have to see where these guys end up at the end of camp,” Martinez said. “I know 60 games ain’t 162 games but…our guys, they’re very intense. It’s going to be hard to take Max out of a game after the fifth inning when he’s doing well but there might have to come a time where we have to do that just for longevity. But these guys, for me, if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to be ready to go out the chute.”

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Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman tests positive for COVID-19 with Opening Day 12 days away

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman tests positive for COVID-19 with Opening Day 12 days away

The New York Yankees could be without their top relief arm on Opening Night against the Nationals.

Manager Aaron Boone announced Saturday that Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is experiencing “mild symptoms” after testing positive for the coronavirus and will be away from the team “for the foreseeable future.” Chapman is the third Yankees player to contract the virus after infielder DJ LeMahieu and reliever Luis Cessa tested positive in early July.

Boone’s announcement comes 12 days before the Yankees are scheduled to take on the Nationals in D.C. to kick off MLB’s abbreviated 2020 season. New York will play three games against Washington in the only series between the two clubs this year.

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However, if any team is built to absorb the loss of its closer, it’s the Yankees. Boone said that reliever Zack Britton would be the “natural guy” to handle ninth-inning duties if Chapman isn’t ready for the start of the season. New York’s bullpen also includes Adam Ottavino, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle, each of whom—like Britton—would be a closer on most other teams.

On Friday, MLB and the players union announced that 28 of the 30 MLB teams had at least one player or staff member test positive for the coronavirus between intake screening and monitoring testing. Overall, 83 of the 11,149 samples collected have come back positive—a rate of 0.7 percent.

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