Rizzo: Nats have core in place to win in '19

Washington GM gives skipper Martinez vote of confidence

September 5th, 2018

WASHINGTON -- This disappointing 2018 season been anything but how the Nationals planned. After winning the National League in each of the past two seasons and starting the year with World Series aspirations, Washington is in position to miss the postseason for the first time since '15.

Falling short of expectations usually brings questions about the future of the manager, but as general manager Mike Rizzo addressed the media prior to Wednesday night's game against the Cardinals, he made it clear: Dave Martinez will return as Nationals manger in 2019.

"I haven't considered any other scenario," Rizzo said.

In his first season as Washington's manager, Martinez has navigated a myriad of injuries and underperformance from some key players to guide the Nationals to a 69-70 record, entering Wednesday night, good for third place in the NL East. Washington hired Martinez, who was previously the Cubs' bench coach, in the offseason and signed him to a three-year contract with a mutual option, easily the biggest commitment the club has made to a manger.

So, despite reports of issues within the clubhouse or outside questions about the decision to replace Dusty Baker with the unproven Martinez, Rizzo's support has remained firm.

"I think Davey has done a great job managing this team," Rizzo said. "He's managed them through a lot of trials and tribulations that a lot of first-year managers haven't had to go through. To have the team playing with the exuberance and energy level that they're playing at this point, I think, is a testament to Davey, the staff and the way that they feel about him in the clubhouse."

On nearly every TV inside the Nationals clubhouse Wednesday afternoon was the Red Sox completed a ninth inning comeback to pull off a three-game sweep of the Braves. It served as perhaps another stark reminder of the opportunity squandered during the past month.

Both the Braves and Phillies -- the two teams ahead of Washington in the NL East -- have hit a bit of a funk lately, but Washington has failed to capitalize. Since Aug. 15, Atlanta has gone 8-12 and Philadelphia is just 7-12, while the Nationals are 9-9 in that span.

"We thought all along we had a chance to catch those teams," Rizzo said. "If we played the way we were supposed to be playing, we'd have an opportunity to make this a race, and that's frustrating that we haven't put anything together."

The Nats' front office began a teardown of some of the team's expiring contracts in late August, trading five players -- , Matt Adams, , and -- in August to contenders for the stretch run. Rizzo acknowledged those moves are not expected to put the Nationals' payroll under the luxury tax this season, a number the team wants to be below in the future.

Rizzo did reiterate how Washington has not been shy about going beyond that number in the past to build a competitive team, which he also expressed confidence in doing moving forward. Even though the Nats didn't meet expectations this season, he considered it a blip on the radar.

"I think the core is in place to have a championship-caliber club," Rizzo said. "I think the process that we have here in D.C., that we've shown here in the past, is we're capable of putting together a championship-caliber club, and I think we'll do so this offseason."

Martinez on Roberto Clemente Day

During their trip to Pittsburgh this summer, the Nationals organized a team gathering at the Roberto Clemente museum, led by Martinez, who calls the museum one of his favorite places in baseball. Major League Baseball is celebrating Roberto Clemente Day on Wednesday and Martinez, who is Puerto Rican, said he looked up to Clemente as a child growing up, so he was proud to wear a Clemente shirt and hat during batting practice.

"He was always my idol growing up," Martinez said. "Not only as a baseball player, but as a human being. How he died and he what he did for Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, it was just a very unselfish deal. ... He touches all our hearts and it means a lot. To this day, I always feel like the No. 21 should be retired all over MLB."

Worth noting

could be activated as soon as Friday after completing his latest simulated game on Wednesday.