How the Nationals plan to combat 'rust factor'

Chris Lingebach
October 17, 2019 - 11:52 am

The one downside to the Nationals sweeping the Cardinals, if there is any to be found, is the amount of downtime it creates leading up to the World Series.

Downtime has its advantages. For pitchers it allows extra time for arm recovery, even mental freshness for the team as a whole.

The downside to extensive downtime is bats can go cold, as hitters become ill-adjusted to seeing pitches at game speed. Not an ideal recipe for success in the biggest series of them all. By the time the World Series begins, the Nats will have had an entire week off from play.

"There is something to it," Nats GM Mike Rizzo said of the rust factor on 'In The Clubhouse,' brought to you by Burke & Herbert Bank. "I remember when we'd win the division and you have four days off and it's tough."

"If you think about it this way, you only have more than one day off throughout the season one time, and that's the All-Star Break, and that's a four-day break," he told The Sports Junkies Thursday. "You're almost like starting over. We've got some plans in place. We have a workout today. We're gonna have simulated games against the other part of our roster that were traveling with us but are not playing."

"We've got to keep guys sharp, we're gonna keep them competitive and we're gonna work extremely hard and see if we can keep some kind of edge," he continued. "There's nothing like when they tee it up and they say 'Play ball!' and it's time to go. It's hard to simulate that, but we're gonna do the best we can to keep their arms in shape, their legs in shape, and see some active pitching and live pitching. It's a tricky thing.

"We will be rested. We'll have our rotation, our bullpen set up the way we want it, but the team we play may be coming off a big win or something like that, so we'll have to deal with that. But hey, what are you gonna do? You gotta play the games. It's the World Series and we're going to get after it and represent the District of Columbia in the best way we can."

The Nationals secured their spot in the World Series even sooner than Rizzo thought was possible.

"No, I didn't think we were going to sweep the Cardinals going into this series," he said. "You know, I thought, like most of the season, it was gonna be a nip-and-tuck. I thought it was gonna go down to Game 6 or 7 and we had it mapped out, our pitching rotation through Game 7. Yeah. We were excited when we took two in St. Louis, in that hostile environment. We were really excited about that.

"And then when we won that first game at home in that fashion, I felt really good about the series. You never want to go down, you know 3-1. Then you give them another opportunity if it's 3-1, and then it's almost a must-win for you, because then you go back to St. Louis. There's a lot of things going through your mind. Taking care of business in Game 4 was awesome."

The Nationals are in the midst of an exceptionally rare season, obviously so considering they've advanced further in the postseason than ever before. But it started off in complete ruin, with the Nats just 19-31 on May 23.

From there, the story goes, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and strung together 74 wins in their last 112 games, playing at a seemingly impossible .660 win percentage.

It would have been easy for any manager to be thrown under the bus after such a poor start, but Rizzo stuck by Dave Martinez and, lo and behold, Martinez steadied the club under intense pressure, they rallied and made the postseason, and now he's pressed nearly every correct button to help get them where they are.

Asked if personality was one of the reasons why he kept Martinez, Rizzo said, "I think the trust factor was. He and I built this bond together. I really enjoy being around him. I trust him. I've got his back."

"You know, you have to evaluate the manager," he said. "And how can you evaluate the manager when the bullpen that we had at the time, they were an underachieving bullpen? Let's face it. We had four of our regular eight players were on the disabled list at the same time, at one time.

"So I was asked the question many times. I'm like, 'We're 50 games into this thing. How do you distinguish what kind of team we are when we haven't had our team here yet?' Davey and I met countless times through this period. I tell Davey all the time. You know, I've been the GM of the Nats since 2009, been through a lot of trials and tribulations. We have never had a better season as a front office and as a Major League staff than we have this year."

"When you talk about general manager, we had to manage, generally, throughout this season more so than I ever had in my career," he continued. "We made more in-season moves than we ever did. We tweaked this roster more than we ever did. I had to be out and about and in that clubhouse, and talking to players and staff more than we ever have, because Davey and I did, we had to keep the team up. Again, it's a credit to Davey and his staff and those veteran players for keeping this thing afloat."

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