Thursday, September 6, 2018

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said there is a huge difference between watching a big league game from the bench as opposed to the top step of the dugout.

“You have to be there,” said Maddon, 64, pointing to the steps in the third-base dugout at Nationals Park.

It is certainly a lesson that has been learned this year by Dave Martinez, 53, the Nationals rookie manager who spent the previous three seasons as the Cubs bench coach under mentor Maddon. That included a World Series title in 2016, aiding the Martinez portfolio.

Martinez took over a Washington team that had won two division titles in a row under former manager Dusty Baker.

But the third-place Nationals were just 69-71 going into Thursday’s game with the Cubs and were 7 1/2 games back of first-place Atlanta in the National League East. Washington was 16-22 in one-run contests and 3-7 in extra-inning affairs – perhaps an indictment of the bullpen, Martinez or both.

Despite a learning curve, Martinez has backers in the opposite clubhouse this weekend who want to see him succeed.

Cubs infielder Daniel Murphy, who led off Thursday and played second base, gave an unsolicited endorsement of Martinez the day he was traded last month by Washington. And he did so again Thursday.

“I think he is a good man,” said Murphy, standing in front of his locker in the Cubs clubhouse. “He is a really good baseball man. I thought In the midst of a lot of trials he was always positive. We always played hard for him, which I think is a reflection of the manager when things aren’t going well. I wish I could have played more for him. I wish I would have been able to play better for him. But I enjoyed for him.”

Cubs utility star Ben Zobrist, in his third year with the club, also played with Tampa Bay when Martinez was a bench coach there with Maddon.

“I think they played off each other’s strengths,” Zobrist said of Maddon and Martinez. “Everyone was hoping for (Martinez) to get an opportunity. I think he will do fine. I know the job itself is a really tough job. This is his first time doing that. From the outside now looking in I hope people give him the time to showcase what he is capable of as a manager instead of jumping to conclusions the first year.”

How did Martinez deal with down times at Tampa Bay and Chicago?

“When he was a bench coach he was looking for how can I help? How can I raise the level, be it teaching or saying a certain thing to the right guy at the right time,” Zobrist said. “I always felt he tried to do that for us when we had struggles.”

Those endorsements came a day after Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told the media that he couldn’t think of a scenario in which Martinez would not return in 2019.

It also came in the dog days of summer, when tensions run high.

In the past few days, members of the Seattle Mariners got into a fight in the clubhouse before a game against the Orioles. Earlier this week, according to reports, two broadcasters for the Detroit Tigers got into a physical altercation.

The Nationals have had their own issues, when pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg had a verbal tussle in the dugout after Strasburg came out of a start here against the Braves on July 20.

Winning seems to mask such tension. “You hit it on the nose: consistency. That is what they have been doing,” Martinez said of the Cubs. “That is what we need to get better at.”

Maddon certainly had his own challenges. He was 8-14 as an interim manager for the Angels in 1996 and was 61-101 in his first full season, with Tampa Bay in 2006. Two years later he won the American League pennant with 97 regular-season wins.

“I think it starts with pitching and defense,” Maddon said of being a consistent contender.

But the sage skipper also said, “building of the culture” along with attitude and believability are also important as he aims for a fourth straight playoff appearance with the Cubs.

Those are lessons Nationals fans hope have rubbed off on Martinez. “I am excited about the future has for Davey over there in D.C. and with the Nationals,” said Murphy, the subject of a video tribute before Thursday’s first pitch.

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