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Why Mike Rizzo stood firm even with Nationals at 19-31

Why Mike Rizzo stood firm even with Nationals at 19-31

Max Scherzer came in from his bullpen session and struck up a conversation with Mike Rizzo.

Scherzer leaned against a padded rail while talking to the team’s lead decision-maker. It was cool and cloudy, and the Nationals were 19-31 after an abominable four-game sweep in New York. They made errors; lost on a walk-off infield single; participated in childish disputes; watched the bullpen crash multiple times. Dumpster fires pointed at the situation and thought, “Well, at least we’re not them.”

When Scherzer and Rizzo finished talking Friday, May 24, 2019, the star pitcher descended the dugouts steps and went up the tunnel. Not long after, a person everyone was waiting to see emerged. Davey Martinez came up to watch Aníbal Sánchez throw a simulated game. His presence alone was news.

Like Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen five days prior, Rizzo now had to defend why the organization was retaining its manager. Usually, managerial change in Washington occurs during the offseason -- and often. Robinson, Acta, Riggleman, Johnson, Williams, Baker and those for brief stints in between. The franchise’s legacy to that point -- wobbling 10 games out of first place -- was wrapped around star top picks, soul-ripping postseason failure, and spinning managers in and out as if they were meaningless parts.

When he met with reporters hours after talking to Scherzer and crossing paths with Martinez, Rizzo took a stand in two regards. First, Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Sean Doolittle and other major, tradable assets were not leaving. Second, neither was Martinez.

“We're not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said when asked his confidence level with Martinez as manager. “We've got a lot of season left. Davey's not happy with what's going on, nobody's happy with what's going on, the fanbase, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We've got to play better baseball.”

Miami was only 1 ½ games behind Washington at that point. Most local literature and on-air commentary had dismissed Martinez, even if Rizzo had not. In the moment, Rizzo did not give flat assurance about Martinez’s future. The Nationals limped -- literally -- to barely above .500 in his first season. They were one of the league’s worst teams by this point in 2019 and his managerial record was well below .500. Injuries were an enormous factor in his path. But, expectations and cost remained high, so time for allowing the pragmatic approach was running out.

“Well certainly you have to have a plan in place for all contingencies,” Rizzo said. “And like I said, we're fairly spoiled here. We've had winning records, we've been in first place for a lot of the last seven years. There's only three teams in all of baseball, I think, that have played .500 baseball over the last seven years. So we're certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we're at in the standings, and we always have a one-, three-, and five-year plan in our minds, and that'll continue.”

That night, a rally against Miami finally delivered a win. The game carried many of the bad baseball tenets flooding the Nationals’ season to that point. They played poor defense. The bullpen gave up runs. It was ugly.

Yet, they won using what was becoming another common trait: end-of-game comebacks.

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So, when Martinez walked into the postgame press conference, sat down and exhaled, a reporter suggested to him, “a win is a win, is a win.” He immediately perked up.

“Exactly,” Martinez said, before repeating the phrase.

His most tenuous day of the season was over when he walked out. It was a long one. Martinez went home, rewatched the game, came back Saturday. They won again. Another win on Sunday. The three consecutive victories was the team’s longest winning streak to that point. They may have been the three most important regular-season wins, too. Martinez kept his job. The core players stayed at their lockers. Rizzo kept on hunting for solutions. By Halloween, they were able to look back with a smile.

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Carter Kieboom breaks Ryan Zimmerman's single-game record for assists by a Nats third baseman

Carter Kieboom breaks Ryan Zimmerman's single-game record for assists by a Nats third baseman

Nationals rookie infielder Carter Kieboom set a new team record for the most infield assists by a third baseman in a game when he recorded 10 over the first eight innings against the Orioles on Friday night.

Kieboom passed Ryan Zimmerman’s record of eight assists, set “many times” according to Nationals Director of Communications Kyle Brostowitz.

Though Kieboom was shifted around the infield for most of the night, his new record comes after an offseason full of questions about his defense.

The natural shortstop is Washington’s heir apparent to Anthony Rendon, who departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency last offseason after seven seasons with the Nationals. Kieboom had started just nine games at third in the minor leagues before the start of this season.

He still has plenty left to prove as a major-league third baseman, but Kieboom's record did come on an eventful night for the rookie. In addition to his feat (albeit, a bit fluky of one), Kieboom went 2-4 at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored.

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Nationals pull Stephen Strasburg after 16 pitches with apparent hand injury

Nationals pull Stephen Strasburg after 16 pitches with apparent hand injury

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was pulled just 16 pitches into his start against the Orioles on Friday after visibly shaking his hand and wincing after several pitches.

The reigning World Series MVP missed the start of the season with a nerve issue in his throwing hand. He returned to the mound Sunday, also against Baltimore, and cruised through four innings before things fell apart in the fifth. On Wednesday, Nationals manager Davey Martinez expressed concern with how he was still feeling a tingling sensation in his hand.

“I was a little bit concerned,” Martinez said during a Zoom press conference. “We will see how he feels. Yesterday he threw a little bit. He still felt it, so we will see where he is at. It’s raining right now, so we will see if he can go out there and throw again today. But we will definitely have to keep an eye on it. It’s a weird thing. He doesn’t feel it all the time. I know he’s in the training room working with the staff and trying to get it to go away.”

Strasburg faced only three batters Friday before getting the hook. He recorded two outs around a solo home run off the bat of outfielder Anthony Santander and was replaced by right-hander Erick Fedde.

The news comes on the heels of the Nationals losing second baseman Starlin Castro to a broken wrist and announcing that lefty reliever Sam Freeman was transferred to the 60-Day Injured List.

Strasburg is in the first season of a seven-year, $245 million extension he signed with the Nationals last offseason.

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