Mike Rizzo: Dave Martinez ‘kept this club together’

Chris Lingebach
July 17, 2019 - 9:41 pm

Mike Rizzo was part of a 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks club that lost 111 games. Three years removed from a World Series title, that's a tough pill to swallow.

But nothing could have prepared the Nationals general manger for his club's start in 2019.

"This was the most frustrating two months that I've ever had as an executive and as a baseball guy, just because of all the things that happened," Rizzo told The Sports Junkies during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank.

The difference between these Nats and those Diamondbacks is that Arizona club was supposed – expected, even – to be bad. The 2019 Nats were designed to win.

"It just kind of roller-coastered and dominoed on us," Rizzo said. "When Trea Turner goes down, and then Soto goes down, Rendon goes down, Zimm goes down, Adams goes down, two of our starting pitchers go down, all in a big bulk of the season. And then you're playing the toughest part of your season, really, was in those first two months.

"I remember going into the clubhouse when we were on the road trip – we went (to) Philly for three, Milwaukee for three, and Los Angeles for four – and the lineup card on the wall, I go to Davey. I said, 'How are you gonna pull this one off?'"

"With the lineup that we were featuring there," he said, "it was several Triple-A players, we had bench players that were playing every day, we had pitchers that we have high regard to, but we thought that needed more seasoning in the minor leagues. We've got these guys in prominent roles against some big-time teams and we're just treading water to keep our nose afloat from not drowning totally."

And so, once the Nationals hit rock bottom – with a 19-31 record and 10 games out of first place on May 23 – the only place left to go was up. Reinforcements finally arrived and the Nats quickly got on a roll, winning nine of their next 11 games. And with stars Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner back in the lineup, they began to find a rhythm.

Coincidentally, May 23 was the day manager Dave Martinez chose to blow up an umpire, throwing a throwback cap-slamming, dirt-kicking tantrum in reaction to a bad call from Bruce Dreckman. As D.C. sports media were loudly calling for his job, Martinez unloaded two months of frustration into that home plate outburst.

They've now won 31 of their last 43 games and are owners of the best record in baseball since May 24.

"Again, a testament to that coaching staff and to Davey," Rizzo said. "He kept this club together when it could have splintered off very, very easily.

"I didn't hear and I didn't notice, and I'm around all the time, one player – one veteran, one one young player – pointing a finger and blaming somebody else, either on the record or anonymously. There was nobody back-biting the manager. Everything was handled professionally and the way a big league team should."

"I thought all along that this was gonna be a good team," he said. "I thought we were a 90-, 92-win-ish team coming out of spring training and that's how we attacked this season, the offseason and early on in the season. So when it doesn't go your way, you try and find remedies for it and kind of some fixes. Again, coaching staff and our minor-league staff, our development staff, that kept developing these players that we could bring up to kind of stop-gap these things until we got healthy, are to be commended."

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