Spring training is underway and the Washington Nationals are hard at work to repeat as World Series champions in 2020.
The Sports Junkies are broadcasting live from the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches this week, bringing you the inside scoop from West Palm Beach, Florida. Here's what you may have missed from Monday's show.
The Junkies spoke from the outset of their interview with Max Scherzer about the surreal feeling of winning the 2019 World Series.
"World Series champion," Eric Bickel said. "Does it still free great to say that all the time?"
"Never gets old," replied Scherzer. "It still feels good."
"And like see the signs here now on the building?" Bickel said. "Isn't that so cool?"
"Yeah. You catch yourself. You have to pinch yourself every now and then," said Scherzer. "Like, that happened. We get to call ourselves champs for the rest of our lives."
"That was actually really, really frustrating," Scherzer said. "It was basically two months' worth of dealing with it. For me, I mean I've pitched through so much crap in my life, knowing what you can and can't pitch through. And what I was dealing with wasn't actually like that bad in terms of the pain level."
"I was able to pitch and get up on the mound, and I was throwing mid- to upper-90s and yet I was hurting myself, and so that was what was really confusing," he said. "Usually your velo's the first thing to go if you're hurt, but I was able to keep my velo all the way up there. And that's where I didn't know when I was 100 percent. Because if I can throw it as hard as I can and it works, I must be fine.
"And so for me, it was the endurance of that muscle back there."
Ryan Zimmerman opens up about how close he was to not returning for his 16th season, sharing he had "probably four or five" American League teams showing interest.
"Yeah, I mean, there was interest, believe it or not," Zimmerman said, drawing laughter. "It made me feel good about myself."
Zimmerman was asked if he knew all along that Anthony Rendon wasn't going to re-sign with the Nationals, especially after Stephen Strasburg re-signed.
"You can't keep everybody," he said. "I knew there wasn't a very good chance that we signed both of them back."
"You never take anything for granted," he continued. "I mean, shoot, if they wanted to, they could have thrown the checkbook at both of them. That's above my pay grade as far as the numbers and the bottom line and all that goes. But technically, could they have done that if they wanted to? Of course. The payroll would have been pretty high.
"And that's the tough thing about this sport. Everyone always talks about it when you have teammates that leave. We all wish that we could keep everybody. But I think they did a good job of kind of replacing. I think our roster's very versatile going into this year. You can do a lot of different things with a lot of different guys."
"A lot of vets," Bickel noted.
"Yeah. The old team won last year," Zimmerman said, "so I guess we're gonna run it back."
The Junks caught up with Nats GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo, newly married this offseason. Fresh off a World Series victory, Rizzo believes the Nationals – despite losing Rendon to the Angels in free agency – have a roster that's fully capable of defending their championship.
"We thought we had a solid offseason," Rizzo began. "We filled a lot of the needs that we felt we had. We had a lot of turnover. We had 12 free agents that left the club. We signed back quite a few of them and there's some new faces. I think that we've kind of created a roster we believe that is capable of winning the World Series."
"Our goal is always to win the World Series," he said. "First to battle in the National League East, which is a tough division again this year. But that's our goal. We think that we have a team that's capable of doing it this year."
Strasburg was just 23 years old when Kurt Suzuki first caught him with the Nationals. In the years since, Strasburg's completely transformed his game, culminating with his dominant postseason performance, which culminated with a World Series title and, of course, Strasburg winning World Series MVP.
Asked what he saw in Strasburg's development that made him such a dominant pitcher in 2019, Suzuki said, "His maturity. Obviously when he broke into the league, I was fortunate enough to catch him, and, I mean, he was throwing 99 to 100 every pitch. And now it's more of, he really learned how to pitch. He learned his body, learned his mechanics. His maturity of facing adversity and how to deal with adversity."
"I mean you look out there, this guy's just even-keel and he knows what he needs to do," he said. "It's really impressive to watch. I mean this guy goes out there every single day. He made every start I think last year for us, over 200 innings and in the postseason he was dominant.
"Just watching him go about his business, whether it was an elimination game or what, he went out there and he pitched. And he gives up a homer in the first – the two games he pitched in the World Series – and it didn't even phase him. He goes out there, one game pitched seven innings, and one game pitched – what? – eight and two-thirds. I mean that just shows you this guy's a beast."