WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez actively lobbied for the team to play more night games this spring.
He got his wish.
Of the five teams within the Nationals’ spring training scheduling pod, only Saturday’s opponent, the New York Mets, will play more Grapefruit League night games this year than Washington’s six.
« I think it gives players a different perspective as far as getting ready because we do play night games and then turn around and play a day game, » Martinez said. « Even though it will be a different lineup, they can get their bodies accustomed to getting up after a night game and getting prepared, and getting ready. »
Martinez isn’t alone in his desire for later spring start times.
« I’d do them all that way, » Mets manager Buck Showalter said.
Playing at night serves some practical purposes for Martinez during this condensed spring training due to the labor lockout.
It allowed him to watch Patrick Corbin, the probable Nationals opening day starter, throw his second live batting practice of the spring in the morning.
Corbin threw 42 pitches during three simulated innings, likely the left-hander’s final tune-up before making his first Grapefruit League start.
Then at night, Martinez watched newly acquired slugger Nelson Cruz ground into a double play and line a single into left field in his first game with the Nationals.
The team’s first four home spring training games start at 6:05 pm The vast majority of Washington’s regular-season games have later start times.
« Especially the last two weeks of spring, I always wondered why we didn’t play more night games just so that we can prepare our schedules, » first baseman Josh Bell said.
Improvements in stadium lighting are allowing teams to schedule more night spring training games.
While the lighting at spring training complexes doesn’t quite achieve the bright and smooth luminosity of major league fields, Martinez said the lights at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the Nationals’ spring home, aren’t far off.
« They are some of the better ones, » Martinez said.
Third baseman Maikel Franco thinks hitting under spring training lights could 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 pitchers — especially relievers — develop their regular-season routine.
« The first, maybe, couple weeks to the season is always a big adjustment, » pitcher Sean Doolittle said. « If you have a 1 o’clock game, your whole day builds up to when you are working in the game at like 2, 3, 4, 5 in the afternoon, And then when the season starts you are not working until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. Your body needs to adjust. For some guys that’s more of an issue than others. »
And there’s at least one more benefit to night games in Florida.
When New York’s Luis Guillorme smacked the second pitch of the game from Josiah Gray over the left-field wall, he did so seconds after the announcement of the game-time temperature being 84 degrees.
« It’s going to start getting hot here so having those night games, it’s kind of nice, » Martinez said.
Nationals third baseman Carter Kieboom underwent an MRI on his right elbow after experiencing pain that caused him to be scratched from Friday’s lineup.