Dozier eyes bounce-back season with Nationals

Martinez praises second baseman's work with middle infielders

March 10th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. --  was arguably baseball’s second-best second baseman in 2016 and '17, and that’s the guy the Nationals believe they’re getting. They think Dozier will anchor the infield defense, mentor the youngsters and have an offensive rebirth.

“He’s been unbelievable so far in camp,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He’s been really good with [shortstop Trae Turner] and some of the young infielders. He’s a constant professional. He’s healthy and feels good. I really believe he’s going to have a bounce-back year. What he does for the middle of our defense, which we really wanted to hone in on this offseason, we’ve got a guy who was a Gold Glover and could potentially win another.”

Dozier’s code is old school: Say nothing about injuries. Play through everything. Find different ways to contribute.

“It’s not in my DNA,” he said. “Never has been. Some people say it’s not a great thing. I think it’s a really good thing. To play through stuff. I always have. I encourage people to do that. I was taught that growing up. If your right leg don’t work, use your left one. You always feel you can do something to help. You might not be able to run that day, but you still feel you can drive a couple of people in or do something to help your team win."

In reflecting on a frustrating 2018 season, Dozier nevertheless prides himself on playing 151 games even though his numbers declined across the board. In the 2016 and '17 seasons, his 11.2 fWAR was second only to Jose Altuve among all Major League second basemen.

In '18, everything was a struggle, and Dozier finished with a .215 batting average and a .696 OPS. He said he was never physically right, pointing to a variety of things that left him “banged up,” while he tried to play through a a bad bone bruise in his right knee.

But he played on.

“It was kind of weird,” Dozier said. “You have one hiccup over the last six or seven years, and it ended up transforming everything. Putting thoughts into people’s minds that this is who you are instead of what you’ve done your entire career. That’s the kind of aggravating part of it. At the same time, go out and prove yourself.”

On the other hand, after a couple of years of hearing his name mentioned in dozens of trade rumors, Dozier finally was traded, from the Twins to the Dodgers on July 31.

“That did weigh on me,” he said. “You get a sense that you’ve put so much effort into one organization. We don’t like to think about the business part of it because we just like to play. So it’s like, `They don’t want me in Minnesota.' That kind of thing.’ My wife and I invested a lot in the community. We poured our heart and soul into it. That side of it is tough.”

In signing a one-year, $9 million contract with the Nationals, Dozier said he passed up more money elsewhere to join a team that sold him on its culture and on the potential to win in 2019.

“Looking at what [Nationals general manager] Mike Rizzo did in the offseason and just to sense that winning feeling from him, that everybody’s all in, that kind of boosts your energy,” Dozier said.