As Davey Johnson maintained all along, as recently as this weekend, he didn't think Washington Nationals' hitting coach Rick Eckstein was the cause of the Nats' offensive issues. In an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. in early June, Johnson was asked whether Eckstein, who'd held the position since 2008 was to blame for the inability to score that had the Nationals hovering around .500 all season.
"I’ll tell you what," Johnson told 106.7 the FAN's The Sports Junkies, "He teaches exactly what I teach. So if you fire him, you might as well fire me. First of all, he’s the hardest worker on the ballclub. He takes every guy personally. He would be there 24/7 for anybody to hit. He’s very well organized. His philosophy I agree with 1000%…"
Asked to describe exactly what a hitting coach does, Johnson broke down the job. "He works on guys having more compact zones. You know, there's a perfect swing, and you don't try to change everybody's swing, but everybody has to do certain basics to get to the ball quick. It's the path you take to the ball. It's how you lock and load. It's how you release. But the main thing is, a lot of young guys are still learning who they are and they've been exposed to a lot of other hitting coaches that have given them erroneous information."
Johnson reiterated in the interview that he agreed 1000% with Eckstein. The Nats decided to make a change this afternoon anyway, announcing that they'd relieved Eckstein of his duties and replaced him with hitting coach Rick Schu, who was already working as a hitting coordinator in the organization. After he was told Eckstein would be relieved of his duties, he explained this afternoon, Johnson told him personally because he thought he owed him as much.
Here's what Johnson and Rick Eckstein had to say according to reporters in Nationals Park at the manager's pregame press conference after the announcement was made:
"I have been traded, I have been sold, I have been fired but today is arguably the toughest day I've had in baseball." - Davey Johnson
Rick Eckstein: "It's not about how hard I work or how good a person I am. It's about production. ... I blame only myself."— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) July 22, 2013
Davey: "obviously I'm not in agreement with it." But he understood idea of needing change. Informed Eckstein of decision himself.— Amanda Comak (@acomak) July 22, 2013
When Rizzo told him he wanted to fire Eckstein, Davey essentially offered to be fired instead. But insisted he's not quitting.— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) July 22, 2013
Davey Johnson was clear that he was not quitting and when GM Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters this afternoon, he was clear that he has no intention of firing his manager:
Re: Davey, Rizzo said "We're not going to fire Davey Johnson, one of the best managers that's ever managed."— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) July 22, 2013
There's still baseball to be played, however, and just two hours until the Nationals start a four-game set with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Will the dismissal of their hitting coach light a spark in the Nats' hitters? Here's the lineup Davey Johnson has going against the Bucs tonight in the nation's capital: