Nationals taking proactive approach to injury prevention
VIERA, Fla. (AP) After a season in which they were decimated by injuries, the Washington Nationals are taking a proactive approach, trying to avoid that happening again.
Utilizing a new medical structure that stresses injury-prevention techniques, the Nationals are banking on having a much healthier team not only coming out of spring training, but throughout the entire year.
''I think it's smart what we're doing,'' left fielder Jayson Werth said Friday. ''If you look around the league, you've got a lot of guys who are injured from breaking down. It's not like they ran into a wall, or got hit by a pitch. I think the proactive approach could be really helpful.''
''If you stay ahead of injuries, if you put the best team on the field day in and day out, you should win more games. I think it's good. I'm proud of what they're doing and what they've done,'' he said.
Werth played only 88 games for Washington last season after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and then breaking his wrist. Injuries also limited third baseman Anthony Rendon to 80 games, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman to 95 and center fielder Denard Span to 61.
The Nationals, who entered the year as the favorite to win the World Series, instead finished 83-79 and missed the playoffs.
''(Injuries) were an important part of our record,'' general manager Mike Rizzo said. ''We lost somewhere around 1,300 games played, a lot of them from our key contributors. It was a big factor for us.''
After researching the plan for several years, the Nationals made the change in November with the announcement they had hired Harvey Sharman as Executive Director/Medical Services. Sharman had previously served as the Director of Sports Medicine/Science for the Leeds United Football Club in England, where he oversaw a 50 percent reduction in injuries.
Part of the new model relies on analytical information for each player, which is something they're getting used to.
''I think it's going to help out a lot,'' Rendon said. ''It's a lot of new stuff that many of us don't know about, but we're all up for it. We're ready to try new things.''
That includes finding new ways to take advantage of, or improve certain areas of the body.
''They're trying to figure out our strengths and our weaknesses in our arms, in our legs - anything to help us get that edge, physically,'' pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. ''I think that's what it is, from the stretching and the shoulder exercises to the legs, even all the way down to our conditioning.''
While some players said the new system is markedly different than what they've done in the past, Zimmerman described it as simply a change in emphasis.
''It's nothing crazy,'' he said. ''It's just a little bit more transitioning into not lifting as much weights and body-weight stuff and a lot of stretching and a lot of core stuff. (Working) little muscles that I never ever used before and using those to kind of keep me stable.''
''The goal is to eliminate those soft tissue injuries that have kind of plagued me over the last two years,'' he said.
While the plan is certainly beneficial for helping players maintain their health coming out of spring training, it hardly stops there.
''It's a total plan of how we interact with players, how we handle players from the first day we acquire them into the organization,'' Rizzo said. ''It's 12 months a year, 365 days we're monitoring and working with the players.''
Gonzalez said not only do the players have more eyes on them, but the training staff is constantly taking notes, not only asking players how they feel, but even asking how their day was.
If the Nationals are successful with their approach, other teams may follow. Right now, they're just concerned about staying healthy.
''We didn't investigate what other teams are doing,'' Rizzo said. ''We just knew we wanted to get into a position where we can improve our situation. We think with the people we brought on board, and with the programs we have in place, we think we've done that.''
NOTES: After missing the team's first full-squad workout Thursday because of an illness, Werth returned and went through a full practice session.