Nats on long rest: We 'really needed a break'

Veteran club using time off before World Series to let bodies recover

October 20th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- It was a rare day with nothing to do Wednesday, so after Sean Doolittle woke up, he took the dogs for a walk, grabbed a Bethesda Bagel and went back to sleep. His manager, Dave Martinez, had a similar day; he slept until about 3 in the afternoon, grabbed dinner and then went back to sleep himself.

The baseball schedule so rarely offers opportunities like this, but the Nationals earned it after sweeping the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, giving them six days off between clinching this past Tuesday night and the start of the World Series on Tuesday night in Houston.

So the Nationals took the first two days off, catching up on sleep -- most of them stayed out until nearly 6 a.m. Wednesday after Game 4 -- and answering text messages -- Martinez received 600, “599 of them ... positive,” he said with a smile, but he declined to give details -- as they enjoyed a rare breather in the schedule before the biggest games of their career.

“These guys have played unbelievably,” Martinez said. “I think they needed a break. Some guys really needed a break.”

When the Nationals resumed action on Friday, it mirrored a day from Spring Training in West Palm Beach, Fla. They ran the bases, practiced relay throws and took live batting practice. The next two days will feature the same sort of light workouts: more live batting practice, maybe even mixing in an intrasquad game. They’ll work out at night to prepare their bodies for the 8 p.m. ET start times in the World Series. Most importantly, however, the time off gave the Nats a chance for a bit of a breather.

Washington, of course, has the oldest roster in baseball. It rode the arms of its starting pitchers all through the regular season and even harder in the postseason, using high-leverage playoff innings as side sessions to cover for a leaky bullpen. Since their 19-31 start, the Nationals have been playing at a breakneck pace to go “1-0 every day,” one of Martinez’s favorite mantras.

That means this Nationals roster stands to benefit from the lull in the schedule, even though history suggests the long layoff does not play into its favor. Since the current postseason format was introduced in 2012, the team with more rest is 1-6 in the World Series. The sample size is probably too small to draw any decisive conclusions from, but the Nats were peppered with questions about teams that have come out flat in the past after a long layoff.

“One thing I didn’t know about getting this far in the postseason is, it’s emotionally exhausting,” Doolittle said. “It just felt good to have nothing on our plate and just recover a little bit.”

The Nationals also have the luxury of lining up their rotation ahead of the next round. They did not reveal their pitching plans, but they hinted there would be “no surprises,” which almost certainly lines up Max Scherzer for Game 1 on Tuesday night and Stephen Strasburg for Game 2 on Wednesday night, with Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez to follow in Game 3 on Friday night.

“We're getting more and more anxious as the time goes on,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “But we're going to be prepared. I think the rest will do us fine. We've got some veteran players here that could use it. We are going to get some of the cobwebs out after a couple of days off, and we will be ready."