WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer and Mike Rizzo met at the upper corner of the dugout railing Friday around 2 p.m. Scherzer, coming in from a bullpen session, leaned against the padded bar. Rizzo did most of the talking, at times using both hands and gesturing toward different parts of the field.
Scherzer walked into the dugout following the five-minute conversation with Rizzo. Turns out, everyone has questions and is searching for answers during this failing Nationals season.
Not long after the general manager and his Hall-of-Fame-bound starter finished their conversation, manager Davey Martinez came up the dugout steps to watch Anibal Sanchez throw a simulated game. Martinez’s emergence confirmed he was still in charge Friday. Rizzo’s words two hours later further entrenched that idea -- for now.
“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.”
In a planned group session with reporters, Rizzo harped on a trio of points: One was the stage of the season, a second was the need to play cleaner baseball, the third centered on his hunt for bullpen help.
To the first, it’s a semantics dance. Washington, 19-31 coming into Friday following stomach-churning losses to a Mets team in disarray when the Nationals arrived at Citi Field last Sunday, are 30.9 percent into the season. Forty games is historically used as a marker for determining a team’s capabilities. The Nationals are beyond that point and in a deep corner. It’s no longer early because of the broad hole the Nationals have dug.
To the second, the call for cleaner baseball began last offseason. That it’s still being made May 24 is perhaps the most explanatory aspect of how the Nationals find themselves just 1.5 games in front of the trying-to-lose Marlins. Despite persistent harping on the concept, near-daily gaffes continue on the field. The Nationals often do early work, have extra meetings and try to drill down specific points. But, the attempts are betrayed time and again during the actual games, whether it’s baserunning, fielding or math-countering pitch selection.
To the last, Rizzo said he is in pursuit of bullpen fixes from any location: trade, waiver wire, wherever. He also expects those on the roster to perform better. This idea is akin to the demand for cleaner baseball, if with a shorter shelf life. The bullpen roared into the bottom of the league the second day of the season when it allowed seven runs across the eighth and ninth innings. It’s been atrocious since. Of the five relievers used that day, all five remain in the organization. Only Trevor Rosenthal is not on the active 25-man roster.
The three pillars of Rizzo’s discussion -- the calendar, bad baseball and tragic bullpen -- have conspired to put Martinez’s future at risk. He was more stern and explanatory in Friday’s pregame press conference before his boss delivered a proportional backing. Rizzo did not explicitly say Martinez will remain manager. He also did not say he would not. Instead, the generalist approach reigned.
“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.”
The question is how many of those years will include Martinez if this one continues on the same path.
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