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Soto, Nats' Latin youth has Sánchez as model

15-year vet pays experiences forward: 'He was always that guy'
@jessicacamerato
October 13, 2020

WASHINGTON -- It’s not uncommon for players to bond based on their defensive positions. They spend countless hours throughout a season with the same group, from running through drills to working together in games. Naturally, camaraderie forms. “Obviously, there’s cliques,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Relief pitchers are with the relief

WASHINGTON -- It’s not uncommon for players to bond based on their defensive positions. They spend countless hours throughout a season with the same group, from running through drills to working together in games. Naturally, camaraderie forms.

“Obviously, there’s cliques,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Relief pitchers are with the relief pitchers. Starters hang out with the starters. Position players hang out with [the position players].”

There’s also an overarching connection on the Nationals that was forged by one of its most veteran members. Starting pitcher Aníbal Sánchez has helped bridge the gap with the Latin players.

“Aníbal took it upon himself to get these guys involved with the team and communicate,” Martinez said. “[He’s] the guy who’s always pushing, ‘Learn English, speak English, talk to your teammates.’ He was always that guy and having fun with everybody. I think it’s important that we have guys like that.”

Sánchez, 36, has played the past two seasons for the Nationals, his fourth team in his 15-year Major League career. He's been in the game since signing with the Red Sox as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2001, and he made his big league debut in '06. Over that time, Sánchez has been through the triumphs of throwing a no-hitter and winning a World Series championship to the frustrations of sub-.500 campaigns.

“At this point in my career, I know a lot by experience,” Sánchez said. “It’s not because I know everything.”

Whether it’s with another pitcher or a position player, Sánchez is happy to share what he’s learned over the past two decades. He imparts his first-hand knowledge on how to establish and sustain a lengthy career, and -- on a micro scale -- how to get through the day-to-day grind of the season.

“With the Latin guys right now, especially with the young guys, sometimes they need some help, they need some kind of work to maintain their mentality in the game,” Sánchez said. “That’s when I talk with those guys, especially because I know a little bit more of the language. Those guys, they want to know how to maintain their careers for a long time. Sometimes for a pitcher, the careers can be too short or they can be long, but those guys, they want to know probably how I do it, how I’m still pitching good on this level. That’s when we cross a lot of conversations with the young guys.”

There has been a domino effect from Sánchez's willingness to help others. This season, Martinez observed how 21-year-old Juan Soto took on the role of mentor to 20-year-old rookie Luis García. From outfielder to infielder, three years of experience was imparted among the young player from the Dominican Republic.

“I just try to help him out -- how things are up here in the big leagues, how everything’s going to be in the game, outside, too, flying, in the hotels,” Soto said. “I just try to help him out because he’s a really good guy. He likes to listen a lot. I have a really nice relationship with him and just try to help him out as much as I can.”

Those connections were established at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., too. Outfielder Yadiel Hernandez, who turned 33 on Friday, began playing pro ball in Cuba in 2009. He signed with the Nats organization in '16, and he made his Major League debut in September. In spending the majority of this season training and playing with prospects -- some still teenagers -- Hernandez was a veteran voice of insight.

“The baseball that you play in Cuba is a little different than the baseball here in the States,” Hernandez said via translator Octavio Martinez. “Through my experiences, I’ve learned how to do things here and get acclimated quickly to the sport here. ... I like to pass that on to the young players and hope they learn quicker and get more adapted to the game quicker here, as quickly as possible.

“Whether it’s possibly because of my age and the amount of years I’ve been playing, I feel like I have some experience to offer to them, and I’ve always enjoyed passing my knowledge to the young guys. I feel very lucky I can do that and teach them as much as I can from what I know.”

When clubhouse chemistry carries over on to the field, every connection can have an impact. Relationship-building is a statistic that cannot be measured, but one that plays an important role on a team.

“There’s that kind of cohesiveness that you need with everybody,” Martinez said. “It’s good that we have someone like that.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.