This spring training I noticed that before a New York Mets split squad game I saw the Washington Nationals doing something that I had never seen a major league team do prior to a big league game, take infield practice. I immediately took a short video, and tweeted it, and the Nats PR Twitter account assured me that it would become a regular occurrence in 2011. According to Nick Carfado of the Boston Globe, not all of the Nats veterans were keen on the idea:
“According to a major league source, when general manager Mike Rizzo would ask manager Jim Riggleman to do pregame drills to shore up some fundamentals early in the season, it was met with strong resistance from some veterans.
The most outspoken was Jayson Werth (above), who hit .232 on the year after signing a seven-year, $126 million deal. Werth was one of the more vocal opponents in criticizing Riggleman for making the team do drills.
But Werth wasn’t alone. Other veterans piped up, creating a pretty uncomfortable situation.”
(It should be noted that Werth was not in the lineup or dressed for the above video, likely due to a scheduled day off.)
I remember myself being shocked to see them doing this. Prior to games in high school we would always take infield in almost the exact formation that the Nats were going about it…but that was high school. I wondered then how the players felt about doing it, and apparently, they weren’t happy. It had to be embarrassing, especially when you consider that not only fans would see you doing something so routine, but also players on other teams who knew exactly how rare it is for MLB squads to take infield. But when you consider the poor defense the Nats had had coming into 2010, Rizzo probably made the right choice to not worry about embarrassment and instead do everything possible to improve the team’s leather.
The Nationals had a major need to improve their defense in 2011 after a forgettable 2010 defensive campaign. Between Adam Dunn’s issues at first base, and Ian Desmond’s slow learning curve at shortstop, the Nats were one of the worse defensive teams coming into this spring. The team turned it around to an extent, however, committing 23 less errors overall this season.