LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Breaking down plays and decisions after four Grapefruit League games is a wasteful exercise. The results are inconsequential and quickly forgotten. But it is difficult to overlook the Nationals’ aggressiveness on the base paths — and the resulting mistakes — thus far. Base running blunders have cost Washington at least eight outs in four games. Players have been picked off. They’ve been thrown out going first to third. On Monday, top prospect Victor Robles overslid third base attempting to steal it.
And none of the errors at this early stage bothers Manager Dave Martinez, who has preached aggressiveness to his club in spring training when live experimentation doesn’t come attached with meaningful consequences.
“I’d rather them be aggressive that way than not take any chances,” Martinez said after the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the Braves on Monday. “We talked about that early in the spring. We want you in spring training taking chances to see what you can do. Because you’ll never know. In [actual] games, they’ll be a little smarter. But go ahead and see what balls you can make, which balls you can’t make. So I’m not worried about that. I’m happy to see them playing aggressive, playing with a lot of energy.”
Over the weekend, Martinez explained he emphasizes getting base runners to third with less than two outs. That’s why, when Wilmer Difo was thrown out Sunday going first to third when he probably shouldn’t have, Martinez didn’t fret.
The aggression doctrine extends to other base running scenarios. When it comes to stealing, Martinez said the team’s better base runners — players like Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor — will have the green light. As for third base coach Bobby Henley’s notoriously high send rate, Martinez shared his philosophy on a third base coach’s role in sending a runner home: He’s there only to stop runners.
Catcher Matt Wieters, slimmer this spring but still not confused for swift, was subject to the aggressiveness firsthand when Henley didn’t stop him from trying to score from second base on a groundball up the middle Sunday. That time, the aggressiveness worked: Wieters slid in safely.
“Probably the fastest I’ll be is Feb. 25,” Wieters quipped. “So might as well get it out there now.”
• While some Nationals took the nearly three-hour bus ride to Disney to face the Braves on Monday, Stephen Strasburg was back at the team’s facility in West Palm Beach, throwing a live batting practice.
“He wanted one more touch-and-feel kind of outing, so we let him do it with a live BP,” Martinez said. “This way you don’t have to worry about how many innings, how many pitches he throws. It’s more controlled.”
Martinez said the right-hander will slot in after Max Scherzer to make his first spring start. As the rotation stands, Strasburg should make his debut Saturday.
• Gio Gonzalez will make his spring debut Tuesday. Tanner Roark will follow Wednesday on just three days’ rest because, Martinez said, his workload was light in his spring debut Saturday. Roark threw 33 pitches in two scoreless innings.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY: 30