GM Rizzo: 'We've got to play better baseball'

May 24th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- With the Nationals owning their worst record since the end of the 2010 season, and mired in a five-game losing streak while surrounded by speculation about manager Dave Martinez’s future with the club, General Manager Mike Rizzo met with reporters on the field before Friday’s game with the Marlins to address a variety of topics.

Martinez would appear to be on the hot seat given Washington’s disappointing performance over the first two months of the season, but Rizzo was not ready to place all the blame on his beleaguered manager despite his 101-111 career record.

“We’re not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said. “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 fan base, ownership and myself. We’ve got to play better baseball.”

Perhaps the most visible cause of the Nationals’ woes is a bullpen that ranks last in MLB with a 7.02 ERA, one that is coming off a series against the Mets in which it blew three consecutive eight-inning leads as part of a dispiriting four-game sweep.

Right now, it feels like Sean Doolittle is the only reliable arm in the bullpen, with veteran arms like Trevor Rosenthal and Tony Sipp battling injury and ineffectiveness, and young pitchers like Wander Suero and Matt Grace struggling to find consistency. While Rizzo expressed confidence in his relievers, he also did not rule out making changes to find the right formula.

“It’s hard to explain,” Rizzo said. “The stuff is there, you look at velocity, movement and again, track record and past performance, and they’re just under-performing right now as a group. It’s something that has to improve and we’re looking for ways to fix it via all sorts of alternatives, trade market, waiver wire and everything to see if we can fix a portion of the team that needs to be fixed.”

While Rizzo stressed it was still early in the season, the Nationals’ poor play thus far puts a ton of pressure on the team to start racking up victories in a hurry. To reach the 90-win bar, a general guideline to reach the postseason, Washington would have to finish the season 71-41, a .634 winning percentage.

“We’ve got to put ourselves in position to win baseball games, we have to play cleaner games, we have to perform better, and we have to play up to the capability of this roster,” Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of people in this group right here that predicted us to win 90, 92 games, and win the division and World Series. That was our expectation coming into this, and a third into the season, I’m certainly not going to pull the pin on that and blow it up.”

Rizzo, who spoke with starter Max Scherzer on the field prior to batting practice as part of what he called “taking the temperature” of the team, takes solace in the fact that the Nationals are still playing hard despite the slow start.

“The guys are getting after it. You saw today, we had early work,” Rizzo said. “Guys were out here at 1:30 in the afternoon on the field working out. And during the games, there’s always a concerted effort to try to win baseball games. We just have to play better. We have to pay cleaner baseball games and not dig ourselves such a hole to climb out of every night.”

While he said he remains cognizant of the calendar, Rizzo also noted the makeup of the Nationals and how their past success can help play a role in turning things around, so he’s willing to give everyone time -- for now.

“With this talented bunch to be where we’re at in the standings, to have our record, is just unacceptable,” Rizzo said. “If we play up to our capabilities -- I’ve said this since Spring Training -- if we play up to our capabilities, I’ll pit this team against anybody in baseball. And if we don’t, then we have to reconsider our options.”