The Nationals have the talent, but what – or who – has been in the way?

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

For a man who insists there is no dysfunction in his shop, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is operating a lot like a man who just discovered dysfunction in his shop.

The man who defends a roster that has fallen well short of his own designs, who said he believed a deadline sell-off would amount to an overreaction, just dumped two players, one he suspected of disloyalty and the other he saw to be disloyal, then rejected the notion he overreacted.

This somehow set up and broke down what was potentially the biggest win of the Nationals’ season, in which they edged the equally dignified and disproportionately outclassed New York Mets by 21 runs.

Interesting few months ahead in Washington.

For years the Nationals have managed to lose one more game than most thought they would or should. Sadly for the Nationals that game almost always came in early October. And so sometimes the franchise appears to be trying to win those games back somehow. Or win that early October game today. Or feigning composure while their legs shake beneath their trousers. Generally, but not always, that has to do with the turnover on their dugout’s top step, and as of today there is a reasonable question as to Rizzo’s confidence in his current manager, now that Rizzo has been moved to come out of his office to banish relievers Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley.

Relief pitcher Shawn Kelley lost his cool Tuesday night and was released by Wednesday from the Washington Nationals. (AP)

Kintzler was branded a malcontent – rightly or wrongly – and shipped to the Chicago Cubs, an outcome not unlike sentencing your impertinent child to three more hours of Fortnite. Kelley, while standing on the mound, had spiked his glove after allowing a home run in a game long past decided. His subsequent glare into his own dugout was determined to submit to his manager the game in its current state was beneath him. (Kelley offered a different story.) The manager, Dave Martinez, said he was not particularly insulted. The general manager designated Kelley for assignment, evicting him thusly: “You’re either in or you’re in the way. And I thought he was in the way.”

The big-league clubhouse is a complicated place. If every player who moaned – about the manager, about the general manager, about money, about the food, about the color of the carpet, about life – was shown the door they’d have to get a bigger door. Stars survive. Middle relievers don’t. Stars are misunderstood. They’re competitors. They’re part of the family, which, you know, can get a little heated. Middle relievers are disposable. They also make for fine examples of what can happen if the general manager has to pull this car over. Right. Now.

I don’t know if Dave Martinez is the right man for this or not. I do know he is bright enough, that he is caring enough, that he is the man standing there at the moment, and that he will be the man standing there in two or three months, when the final reviews are administered. This club, these Washington Nationals, in 2018, would be a lot for any manager with any résumé, and Martinez is in his maiden go-round, the next-man-up in the Nationals’ managerial nesting doll.

General manager Mike Rizzo said he is wholly behind manager Dave Martinez, above. (AP)

Mike Rizzo says he is wholly behind Martinez, that his – Rizzo’s – personnel decisions over 24 hours ought not be judged as covering or cleaning up for a man whose clubhouse has spun out. He’d know better than we would about clubhouses spun out or not, though neither is there any game in admitting the franchise’s sixth manager in 10 seasons, four of those in the Bryce Harper era, maybe isn’t the right guy either.

All there is now is two months of baseball, from the GM down. Make that the owner on down, as Mark Lerner dropped a public memo Tuesday that first pointed out how much money he’d spent, that then promised support for his manager, that then granted, “The business of baseball is not always pretty.”


Sometimes, even, in the strain of the moment, when it’s hot out and the game is out of hand and the season can’t get out of its own way, you just gotta spike a baseball glove. These things happen. They’re not always pretty. And then someone has to decide if a crummy season has led to the glove-spike, or if the glove-spike is the sort of thing that, in one form or another, has been going on for quite long enough.

The Nationals have the players for this, for what must happen between now and the end of September, to save their season. It’s OK to hope Dave Martinez is the right man to lead them, too, because he’s had this shot coming for a while. It’s OK, too, to wonder what – or who – else has been in the way.

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