December 12, 2019

Notes From the Davey Martinez Fan Club

September 15, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Davey Martinez, current manager of the Washington Nationals, is a case study in why catchers make such good managers. Be it Bruce Bochy, Kevin Cash, Joe Girardi or Mike Matheny, their years of sitting behind the plate and working with a pitching staff on an every day basis provided key insights into how to manage a pitching staff. Dave Martinez possesses none of those skills and he has shown a remarkable inability to learn.

Martinez is in his second year as a big league manager. He is getting on-the-job training after serving as Joe Maddon’s bench coach and he was hired in hopes that he could get the Nationals over that last hurdle that has kept them from winning it all. Dusty Baker won two NL East pennants in a row, but was fired for not doing better. More importantly, his pitching coach–Mike Maddox–was sent packing as well. Martinez might have had the good sense to listen to Maddux,. Or not; we will never know. Regardless who has advised him, he has made decisions that beggar the question whether he has been promoted beyond his skill set.

Yesterday’s game is a fine example from which to make the point. Young starter Austin Voth was locked in a tight contest with the Atlanta Braves. He had a 1-0 lead through five innings but in the sixth, he faced the very formidable heart of the Braves batting order in Acuna, Albies and Freeman. Voth got Acuna and Freeman to fly out, but Albies managed a single. Voth had thrown only 80 pitches and Martinez had been loath to stretch him much further over his six MLB starts, but at Fresno Voth had pitched into the seventh inning on numerous occasions. He has thrown more than 150 innings in the minors for a season and for 2019 was right at 100 innings. It was reasonable to believe he could finish the inning.

Martinez took him out. The roof caved in. The Nationals were buried under ten runs and suffocated over the final three innings.

Martinez knows that he has one of the worst bullpens in the majors. He has a pitcher on the mound in Voth who is ahead and pitching effectively. Voth has been injured in 2019, but has not been over-extended. He has the ability, theoretically, to finish the sixth and if he can do so effectively, begin the seventh inning as well. So why does Martinez yank him? The Braves were making harder contact in the sixth inning, but it was Acuna and Freeman, among the best hitters in baseball. Voth had at least as good a chance as anyone in the bullpen of getting Donaldson out and ending the inning.

In came Wander Suero and he allowed the Braves to tie the game and he then gave up two walks to start the seventh inning. A tale of two decisions. Leave Voth in or go to the bullpen. We know how one worked and will never know the former.

During the season there have been a dizzying number of times when Martinez has gotten a reliever up during an inning and never used him. He yanks his relievers with the same sense of false urgency he does his starters not named Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. He burns through relievers like careless campers in a forest: leaving nothing but smoldering cinders in his wake.

Martinez has shown no greater faith in any of his starters not making $20 million or more. He yanks Anibal Sanchez after five if there is the first sign of trouble. Ditto for Joe Ross or Eric Fedde. If there was a strong and deep bullpen that strategy might make sense. What rhyme or reason Davey Martinez uses to manage his pitching staff escapes all but the most discerning.

The Nationals traded for additional bullpen arms in July and got Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland. They also got Roenis Elias, but he has been injured almost from the start. Hudson was thrown into the mix immediately and with good effect for the most part. But Martinez began yo-yoing Hudson just to get him ready. In his first appearance, Hudson came into a game with two outs in the sixth inning. The Nationals were trailing 11-4 against the Diamondbacks. Hudson got the final out of the sixth inning and Martinez pinch hit for him in the next half inning. Very shrewd. No doubt Martinez would have said he was giving Hudson a chance to ease in slowly. But the man is 32 years old. He knows how this works, except he has never pitched for Davey Martinez. He would learn over the coming month.

Fernando Rodney is 42 and the Nationals picked him up off the waiver wires from Oakland. He has been a nice surprise, pitching better than anyone else in the Nationals bullpen except Hudson. But yesterday, Martinez summoned him in the seventh inning, the score tied 1-1. Suero had begun by walking the first two batters. By the time Rodney had recorded three outs, the score was 5-1 Braves.

Could Voth have done worse?

Matt Williams was run out of Washington for bringing in his closer, Drew Storen, in the ninth inning of Game Two of the NLDS against the Giants. There was one out and one man on base and Washington was leading 1-0 with Jordan Zimmerman on the mound, having thrown 100 pitches. Bringing Storen in was text book. It was time for the closer to get the job done, only he didn’t and the rest is history.

General Manger Mike Rizzo, and everyone else with a say, has shown far more patience with Davey Martinez. Mostly because he has never gotten to the playoffs where the consequences of a decision can be magnified ten-fold. But Martinez is leading the Nationals back toward an October berth in 2019. The team had a commanding lead for the Wild Card spot to start September, but has squandered it over the first two weeks of play. If the Nationals are watching from the sidelines again in October, there will be changes to come almost certainly.

Like Matt Williams before him, Davey Martinez will likely return to an advisory role. The only question is who he will drag down with him? Rizzo put this bullpen together along with the others that have failed. He hired Martinez. Boston is the other team over the luxury tax for the past two seasons and they fired General Manager Dave Dombrowski after he failed to make the post season. Big changes could be afoot in Washington if they don’t make the playoffs. The debates will not be televised.

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