Winker feels 'really good,' focuses on staying that way

February 17th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- recalled talks he had with Sean Doolittle about the Nationals when they were teammates on the Reds in 2021. Doolittle had positive things to say, and Winker remembered those chats during free agency this offseason.

“Obviously throughout the offseason, there was dialogue with teams,” Winker, 30, said. “Then here with Washington, I’d say the second half of the offseason, it started, and then it progressed pretty fast. We were having great conversations, and I’m excited about the opportunity.”

Winker signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League Spring Training this month. The seven-year veteran with experience with the Reds, Mariners and Brewers was looking for a turnaround opportunity. Winker was hampered by injuries last season and slashed .199/.320/.247 with one home run in 61 games with Milwaukee.

“I feel really good now,” Winker said. “I was coming off of two surgeries: one on my knee [left meniscus] and one on my neck [disc replacement surgery]. I think the recovery was a little bit harder than I thought it was going to be. It took me a little bit longer than I thought, but I think I’m in a really good spot now. For me, that’s all that matters. Obviously, I learned a lot going through those, and I’m happy I did.”

Winker gained insight into taking care of his body. His focus this offseason was getting ready for the daily competition of a full season, which he views as a never-ending priority.

“Obviously, this game is challenging,” Winker said. “But I think it starts with good health. As a player, that’s what excites me: being healthy, being able to move around in the way I want to.”

Winker is three seasons removed from earning a National League All-Star selection in 2021. That year, he batted .305 and belted 24 home runs. He also ranked fifth in the NL in on-base percentage (.394) and sixth in OPS (.949).

“A couple years ago, he was unbelievable,” said manager Dave Martinez. “We feel like he still has a lot in the tank. He looks great, he lost a lot of weight, looks like he’s in great shape. We watched him over the winter, I know [hitting coach] Darnell [Coles] saw him hit. He said he feels like his swing is back to where it needs to be. He fits the bill. We need another left-handed bat. … If he can hit like he did a couple years ago, we’ve got something special. I always loved the way he hit. I love his intensity and the way he goes about playing the game.”

The Nationals plan to get looks at Winker in left field and as the designated hitter. Winker also took up first base last season to gain more perspectives on the game.

“I think the more positions you play, obviously the more valuable you are,” Winker said. “I feel like it’s another tool in the tool bag and something, if I’m called upon to play, I feel like I can do it. Obviously, I’m still learning that position as well, but it’s a position I feel comfortable playing. When you move from the outfield to the infield, there’s just a ‘You’re just closer to the ball’ factor. Getting to play it in games and having some balls hit at me hard, it kind of breaks you in quickly. So I got comfortable with that.”

Winker would like to call Nationals Park his new home. He batted .355 there in eight games as an opponent, including three homers and a 1.089 OPS. If Winker makes the team, he would have the opportunity for a bounceback year at that stadium, like sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Jeimer Candelario capitalized on in recent years.

“We’ve shown here that nonroster players can make the roster here,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “We’ve proven that reclamation projects can have productive, impactful years and go on from here and get some big contracts in the future.”