Riveting Max-Soto show follows intense D drills

Nats emphasizing fundamentals; Scherzer tunes for Grapefruit opener

February 19th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez wants to run Spring Training a little bit differently this year. Yes, he still wants his team to have fun and stay loose, as evidenced by a cabbage race earlier this week, but this year he wants to put an even heavier emphasis on fundamentals.

The Nationals held their first full-squad workout on Tuesday, which ran for nearly three hours -- a longer session than usual under Martinez,  but he wanted to reiterate a critical point. When players made an error during team defense and bunt drills, they had to re-do the drill until they got it right. Pitchers and catchers have been working out here for about a week, but this felt like Day 1 of Spring Training for the new-look Nats.

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"We spent a little longer day today on the field than I wanted to, but we got a lot accomplished in one day," Martinez said. "And that had to send a message that we're serious about the defense. We're serious about all the little things that nobody really thinks about. Everybody thinks about the home runs and strikeouts and things, but we're going to do all the little things right.

"I told these guys all the time: 'I'm not asking for perfection, I'm asking for you guys to be present. Stay in the moment and be there consistently.'"

The conclusion of the workout provided a most entertaining and intriguing matchup, as 20-year-old phenom Juan Soto faced Max Scherzer in live batting practice for the first time.

The showdown drew a large crowd on Field 4 at the Nats' facility -- fans and reporters gathered around to snap photos and videos, and fans watched intently from the surrounding fences. Scherzer glared over his glove and unleashed his entire arsenal. Soto did not appear intimidated, digging into the batter's box and kicking dirt around -- the "Soto shuffle," as fans have started calling it.

"It's exciting," Scherzer said. "The pitchers and catchers, we've had a good time. We've been working hard. Now let's bring the whole team together. They've been showing their faces here and there. But when everybody's in uniform and you go through the intros -- and here we go, we've got live BPs and we're facing each other -- these are good sessions."

Scherzer threw two rounds of batting practice to simulate two innings against a group that included Soto, , and -- all in preparation for Saturday night, when Scherzer will start the Nationals' Grapefruit League opener against the Astros at 6:35 ET. He has been throwing off a mound since January, so he was more than ready to start facing hitters.

"You want it to feel like baseball," Scherzer said. "There's nothing like getting on a mound and having a hitter up there who's ready to swing the bat, and you've got to try to execute some pitches. It's fun to get out there, spin the ball and just face hitters."