“These guys have played unbelievably,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “I think they needed a break. Some guys really needed a break, heal their bodies a little bit. They are very energetic, excited, so they’ll be ready.”
The Nationals took two days off following their National League Championship Series win Tuesday. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros have been dueling to be their opponent. Martinez got home at 6 a.m. Wednesday, after a night of partying, and slept for hours until his body reset. Reliever Sean Doolittle did the same, then washed some laundry and, when his eyes would stay open, went to buy a book. But now Washington is back on the field and, as of Friday, wading into a plan to sustain its rhythm at the season’s most critical point.
The Nationals will have additional workouts here Saturday and Sunday, including an intrasquad scrimmage and live batting practice, before moving to the home of the American League champion Monday. The goal there is to take the field around the World Series start times — all just after 8 p.m. — and keep batters conditioned to seeing pitches under the lights. Martinez will see how many of his hitters and pitchers want to participate in live scenarios. Many seemed interested following Friday’s workout.
“See as much as we can,” right fielder Adam Eaton said of live pitching. Batting practice “is not a real, true … doesn’t really give you the same feeling. I’m trying to avoid Max [Scherzer] at all costs. That’s the only person I’m trying to avoid. Just for his own confidence level, we want to keep it as high as we can. I’m willing to go ahead and pass on him.”
When asked how his starting rotation may line up for the World Series, Martinez did not commit to a direction. General Manager Mike Rizzo offered only that there wouldn’t be any surprises. That probably means Scherzer will pitch in Game 1, followed by Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez. But the Nationals didn’t know their opponent when they convened Friday. The Astros, leading the American League Championship Series three games to one, had a chance to close out the Yankees on Friday night in New York. Martinez hinted that the opponent wouldn’t shift the pitching strategy too drastically.
Howie Kendrick, the MVP of the NLCS, was not at Friday’s workout because of a family emergency. Martinez fully expects Kendrick to return soon and be ready for the start of the World Series. Because they will open in the American League park, the Nationals will have to decide on a designated hitter for the first two games. Rizzo did not specify a plan for that, saying it will depend on the opposing starting pitcher. Kendrick and Matt Adams, the team’s power-hitting lefty, are the most logical options to be the DH.
History doesn’t favor teams that have a lot of time off before the World Series. Since 2012, when each league added a second wild-card team, the club with more rest is 1-6 in the World Series. But the Nationals are uniquely in need of additional rest. They were the majors’ oldest team this season. Their three best starters — Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin — have shouldered heavy workloads this postseason, pitching in relief as well as starting. And while it may be tricky to stay in “game shape” without any games, Washington is welcoming the break.
“For me, it’s their legs,” Martinez said of what he’s worried about most. “I want to make sure they keep their legs under them.”
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