- - Thursday, August 2, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Nationals clubhouse a mess?

Come on. You want to see a mess? I’ll show you a mess.

Elijah Dukes body slamming the former policeman the team hired to babysit him. Dmitri Young claiming injury so his lunatic friend, Robert Fick, could get playing time in September to try to get another contract in Washington.

Lastings Milledge showing up to play minutes before game time. Paul Lo Duca assuring management that his name would not be in the Mitchell Report, only to have it prominently displayed in the steroids report the next day. General manager and franchise gravedigger Jim Bowden sabotaging his manager’s lineup to try to engineer bad trades for bad players — when opposing general managers would talk to him.

A mess? Seriously, I’ve seen a Nationals clubhouse mess, when this team was a motorcycle gang. The players in this 2018 group are Boy Scouts compared to the Nationals of old.

A mess? An exaggeration. Honestly, there’s not enough personality in this clubhouse to create dysfunction.

The great Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel once said the key to successful managing was to “keep the five guys who hate you away from the five who are undecided.”

Rookie manager Dave Martinez may have failed to do that.

Here’s a news flash — most of the guys on teams who hate the manager are relievers. They are the high-maintenance group, and nearly every one I’ve met believes his manager at any given moment doesn’t know how to handle a bullpen.

The only manager I’ve ever heard praised for his management of relief pitchers was Davey Johnson. And even there, Randy Myers, who got his start with the New York Mets with Johnson, used to complain about him in Baltimore when he wasn’t trying to stick you with his cattle prod.

Which brings us to the departed Brandon Kintzler.

He has been identified in various reports as the Nationals clubhouse deep throat. First, the Yahoo Sports report of the Nationals clubhouse being a “mess” was attributed to him, but that was denied by both the author, Jeff Passan and Kintzler. Then he was considered the source of a Washington Post report about dissension in the bullpen with the way Martinez was managing them.

He was reportedly confronted about that by general manager Mike Rizzo, who then shipped Kintzler out to the Cubs. “If you’re not in, you’re in the way,” Rizzo, a Chicago native, told reporters — which I think is in the “Chicago Way” handbook.

Even in these glory years starting in 2012 — four National League East division titles and six straight winning seasons — the Nationals clubhouse has never been a cauldron of emotions one way or another. It’s just not that kind of mix, and it is something that the front office has tried to address.

That was one of the reasons that they traded for Adam Eaton in December 2016 — not the primary reason, certainly, but it was one of the positives they saw in adding Eaton to the mix. They felt the 5-foot-9, 175-pound outfielder could add a little “edge” to the clubhouse that often seemed too cool for school.

We never got a chance to see him flex those muscles because Eaton tore his left knee ligaments less than four weeks into the 2017 season and was sidelined for the rest of last year. Then he was on the shelf again early this year with ankle surgery and didn’t return regularly until the middle of June. When you are on the disabled list, you are pretty much invisible, and not really in a position to step forward to announce your presence with authority.

So it is not surprising that, since Eaton has finally contributed consistently on the field, batting .302 with a .392 on-base percentage, that he was the one who stepped forward this week and defended the clubhouse.

Asked by reporters if there was clubhouse dysfunction, Eaton replied, “That is absolutely false. You can go to anyone on this back wall, veteran guys, guys who have been there and done that, and they will all say the same thing. I have been on some dysfunctional teams but this ain’t it.

“We are all pulling in the right direction, the same direction,” Eaton said. “We are going to get this thing turned around. We love that Rizzo still has confidence in us. We are going to get things going in the right direction and do something special. I think we all truly believe that. I think it is within us.

“What people put out there is absolutely false,” he said. “Please publish that. Please publish this is not a mess. This is a clubhouse pulling in one direction.”

How strong that pull is may be up for debate. But a “mess?” They’re not even in the conversation for a Nationals clubhouse mess.

Thom Loverro’s Wednesday podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.


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