VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals will hold their first full-squad workout of 2013 Sunday morning, taking to the minor league fields at their spring training complex on a chilly Florida morning. With temperatures in the low 40s and gusting wind, it won’t exactly feel like spring for them.
Manager Davey Johnson held a team meeting Sunday morning, one he said wasn’t likely to take more than 20 minutes and focus more on logistical issues than any kind of motivational speeches.
“It’s not a club that needs to be motivated or rah rah,” Johnson said Saturday. “We’re kind of all grinders. We’re going to put in an honest days work.”
One of the points of emphasis from Saturday’s workout for pitchers and catchers was doing a better job of controlling the running game. For a Nationals team that won 98 games in 2012, if they could define a weak part of their overall game, it was that other teams learned fairly quickly they could run wild on their pitchers.
The Nationals as a team allowed 111 stolen bases in 2012, and only caught 22 runners.
The Nationals focused on varying their times to the plate on Saturday, on not being afraid to check on the runner, and Johnson said he made a point to tell them to remember to use their instincts. Often times, checks on the runners at first base, etc., are called from the dugout. While Johnson said that would still continue some, he wanted each pitcher not to be afraid to think about the situation on his own as well.
“When the bench controls all their movements, they learn that up through the minor league system and once they get to the major league system they’re almost like a machine out there,” Johnson said. “They don’t even think about that, they let the bench decide what they’re going to do and then you sometimes get into such a routine that you can be read. I’ve always hated that.”
The Nationals’ issue last season wasn’t necessarily that pitchers were too slow to the plate, simply that they were too easy to time in their movements. Some of the worst offenders, like Stephen Strasburg and Craig Stammen, were getting timed and baserunners were going at will.
“That’s just part of reviewing the year and where there can be some improvement,” Johnson said. “That’s what my job is, to go over the fundamentals to become more sound and more proficient. We’ve got six (catchers) here who can catch and throw. That’s never been a problem, but you always steal on the pitcher… It’s just part of getting more experienced and becoming a complete player. It’s not like something’s drastically wrong.”
Johnson, not really a proponent of pitching out or issuing intentional walks, said he gave his pitchers the option: “If we don’t hold runners on a little bit better and pay attention to them a little bit better, the only way I can stop the running game is a pitch out. Which would you rather have? Pay a little more attention over there, or have me have a pitch out? They all said ‘I’ll pay a little more attention.’”