On Friday afternoon, Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo stepped into a ring of cameras and voice recorders wearing sunglasses and no expression. His team had returned the night before from a disastrous four-game sweep at the hands of National League East foe the New York Mets, who were supposed to be the worse-off team when the Nationals got to town. Over the next seven minutes, Rizzo neither smiled nor scowled as he delivered a simple message — things are unacceptable — but stopped short of calling for concrete changes.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” Rizzo said. “We’re playing poorly. Believe me, I’m like a lot of the fan base, a lot of the players and the manager [Dave Martinez]. It’s hard to watch sometimes. But we’re certainly not going to pull the plug before we’re a third of the way through the season. We’re a big league club, we’ve got a talented big league roster, and we’ve got to play better baseball. That’s it.”
Rizzo was asked for his level of confidence in Martinez with the Nationals 19-31 and 10 games behind the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies.
“We’re not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got a lot of season left. Davey’s not happy with what’s going on, nobody’s happy with what’s going on, the fan base, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We’ve got to play better baseball.”
With many pointing the finger at Martinez, why isn’t Rizzo?
“Everyone’s got their part in it,” he said. “Management, general manager, everyone’s got their part in how we’re playing, just as we have for the past eight years of how well we’ve played. This is a team process.”
Several times, Rizzo framed the team’s struggles around its previous success, saying “we’re fairly spoiled in that clubhouse” with winning. The Nationals are fourth in winning percentage since 2012 (.554). Rizzo demurred when asked what would be the right time to make a decision on Martinez if a third of the season is too early. He emphasized that the Nationals always have plans for the next one, three and five years and that management would remain “certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we’re at in the standings.”
Washington expected to improve from last year’s 82-80 disappointment and win 90 or so games again this season, he said, and he believes this team still has that capability.
“That was our expectation coming into this,” he said. “A third into the season, I’m certainly not going to pull the pin on that and blow it up.”
Rizzo had difficulty explaining the bullpen, which has a major league-worst 7.02 ERA and was responsible for three of the team’s four losses against the Mets. He thinks that the solution might already be in the bullpen and that the relievers just need to pitch better. He also emphasized that the Nationals are looking beyond their own bullpen — to the trade market, the waiver wire and “all sorts of alternatives” — to find someone whom Martinez can use in the seventh or eighth innings ahead of closer Sean Doolittle.
“The stuff is there, you look at velocity, movement and, again, track record and past performance, and they’re just underperforming right now as a group,” he said. “It’s something that has to improve.”
The Nationals’ effort has not dipped since the losing streak, Rizzo said, pointing out the early work players participated in at 1:30 p.m. Friday for a 7:05 first pitch. He said he identified with the fans’ frustrations, calling the losses in New York “gut-wrenching” and “demoralizing” and “upsetting.” He stressed the need to play “clean baseball” and for the players to not dig themselves a hole they need to climb out of every night.
Lastly, Rizzo highlighted the same message he preached again and again in spring training.
“If we play up to our capabilities, I’ll pit this team against anybody in baseball,” Rizzo said. “And if we don’t, then we have to reconsider our options.”
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