WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Dave Martinez, head of the Washington Nationals team, defended his pressure on the team to play more night games this spring.
He got his wish.
Of the five teams on the Nationals’ spring training schedule, only Saturday’s opponent, the New York Mets, will play more grapefruit league night games this year than six in Washington.
“I think it gives the players a different perspective in terms of preparing because we play night games and then we turn around and play a day game,” Martinez said. “Although it’s going to be a different lineup, they can get their bodies used to getting up after a night game and getting ready and getting ready.”
Martinez is not alone in his desire for later early spring times.
“I would have done it that way,” said Mets manager Buck Showalter.
Playing at night serves some practical purpose for Martinez during this intense spring training because of the work lock.
It allowed him to watch Patrick Corbin, a potential Nationals opener, throw his second live batting practice of the spring in the morning.
Corbin threw 42 throws over three simulated rounds, likely his last set before he started in the Grapefruit League for the first time.
Then at night, Martinez watched newly acquired basketball player Nelson Cruz play a double and line-up one on left field in his first game for the national team.
The team’s first four home games of the spring start at 6:05 p.m. The vast majority of regular season games in Washington start later.
“Especially the last two weeks of spring, I always wondered why we didn’t play more night games just so we could set up our schedules,” said Josh Bell.
Improvements in stadium lighting allow teams to schedule more nightly practice games in the spring.
While lighting at the spring training complexes doesn’t achieve the bright, smooth illumination of major league fields, Martinez said the lights at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the home of the National Spring, aren’t far away.
“They’re one of the best,” Martinez said.
Third baseman Michael Franco believes hitting under the lights of spring training can offer a psychological advantage once the Nationals head north for the season.
“Maybe you feel better when you get there, you start to see the ball better,” Franco said.
Playing at night also helps shooters—especially painkillers—develop their regular season routine.
“The first two weeks of the season are probably always a big adjustment,” said bowler Sean Doolittle. “If you have a one o’clock game, your whole day will start until working game time like 2, 3, 4, 5 in the afternoon, and then when the season starts, you won’t work until 9 or 10 at night, your body needs to adapt. For some Guys, this is more of a problem than the others.”
And there’s at least one more benefit to Florida nighttime games.
When New York’s Lewis Gillorm shot the game’s second pitch from Josiah Gray over the left court wall, he did so seconds after declaring the game-time temperature was 84 degrees.
“It’s going to start out here in the hot weather, so playing those night games, that’s a nice thing,” Martinez said.
The Nationals’ third baseman, Carter Kibum, underwent an MRI on his right elbow after experiencing pain that caused him to scratch from Friday’s lineup.