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Nationals' Mike Maddux talks pitching: "Command the fastball. Change speeds."

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New Washington Nationals' pitching coach Mike Maddux met with reporters this past weekend, discussing the staff he's inheriting, his overall philosophy and more. Mike Rizzo, Dusty Baker and his new staff talked about Maddux as well.

Photo © @federalbaseball
Photo © @federalbaseball

Mike Rizzo talked during Dusty Baker's introductory press conference in the nation's capital in early November about the decision to hire former Texas Rangers' coach Mike Maddux as the Washington Nationals' new pitching coach.

"Michael had, in his contract, he had an out," Rizzo explained.

"He had a window to discuss with other teams. We took that opportunity to discuss with him generalities and then later on when we made the Dusty decision and got Dusty finalized, Mike became a free agent at that time and he was the first guy after I talked to Dusty about it, he was the first guy that we went after and we went after him extremely hard and aggressive and we got him and in one day he made his decision."

"My general philosophy as a pitching coach: Command the fastball. Change speeds. Bottom line that's what you've got to do. And if you can't command the fastball, you better have some good stuff..." -Mike Maddux on his general philosophy on pitching

"He fit a lot of the prerequisites that we're looking [for] in a pitching coach," Rizzo continued. "Dusty had a relationship with him and he really respected the way that he did his business. He's not only a mechanical expert with arm angles and tweaking of deliveries and that type of thing, but he's a mental skills expert. He really knows the ins and outs of pitching. He comes from a great pedigree. He's had great success and he's got a great resume. So, he's a guy that knows the whole gamut of the art of pitching and he comes with a respect factor from the players that's hard to beat."

"This guy knows pitching," Baker said this past weekend at NatsFest. "And he's pedigreed. His dad knows pitching, his brother knows, there's a good chance his mom knows pitching. You know what I mean?

"He brings knowledge and he gets close to his players, I can tell. I've never been on a team with him, but I observe and I watch a lot. He knows how to win at the same time. This guy has been on some winners very recently. He had told me a couple years ago that if I get another job, he wouldn't mind being my pitching coach and it was flattering to me, but he brings a wealth of knowledge."

Maddux talked this weekend about the chance meeting with Baker a few years back when they discussed the possibility of working together at some point in the future.

"You never know when you're talking to somebody you're going to be working with," he said.

"We had a nice chat in the dugout in Oakland a couple years ago and just kind of mentioned, 'Hey it will be kind of cool to work together,' just kind of felt real at ease with him. We just chatted thirty minutes on a whole different subject. We weren't even talking about baseball a whole lot."

"My challenge to everybody is to be better than you are. Why not overachieve? You've been given all this talent and everybody else has talent, what separates us from the next guy?" -Mike Maddux on what he expects from his pitching staff

Maddux did talk baseball when he met with reporters this weekend, discussing his general philosophy when it comes to pitching and working with his pitching staff.

"My general philosophy as a pitching coach: Command the fastball. Change speeds," he summed it up succinctly.

"Bottom line that's what you've got to do. And if you can't command the fastball, you better have some good stuff.

"Good stuff will win out for a while, but we've got to command our stuff and change speeds. My challenge to everybody is to be better than you are. Why not overachieve? You've been given all this talent and everybody else has talent, what separates us from the next guy? It's got to be your mental approach. So that's what I'm going to work on with everybody is their mental approach. How do I overachieve? That's what I want to do.

"The biggest compliment you can give any player is that he was an overachiever.

"That's the biggest compliment anybody can get. And that's what I want our guys to strive to do is when it's all said and done they can look back and say, 'You know what, I overachieved.'"

His excitement at the opportunity he's being given in D.C. was evident when he spoke about the pitching staff he's inheriting.

"I like the inventory," Maddux said. "What an inventory of arms over here, man. I look at a rotation that features Max Scherzer up top, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross, Tanner Roark, you know everybody's got their own schtick going on there: One guy is pitching with two colored eyes. Another guy is pitching with his ears out there. And you've got the one lefty in there and you've got the younger brother of another guy out there and then you've got old Tanner that just came out of nowhere a couple of years ago wins 15 ballgames and then goes and sits on his thumb last year out in the bullpen, so it's a very interesting mix of what we have. And then the bullpen has been retooled. You look at some good middle relief that's been signed here recently and that's going to lead us up to the back end."

"The biggest compliment you can give any player is that he was an overachiever. That's the biggest compliment anybody can get. And that's what I want our guys to strive to do..." -Mike Maddux on what he expects from his pitchers

Getting to know all of his pitchers is a process Maddux said will begin soon after the holidays and continue when they all get together at Spring Training.

"I've got to understand them," he said. "See where they're coming from, cause at the end of the day, my job is to get the best out of them and help them get the best of themselves. So how do you do that? First step is you've got to know them. And that's what I've got to do. Sit down, get to know the guys, let them know that this is a partnership. That we're here to help one another. I'm not out there to bark orders, 'You do this and you do that,' it's, "What do we need to together to make this thing work?"

His new pitchers are eager to get to know him as well.

"I've had some former teammates who've been with him before in Texas and they've come back and said great things about him and how he prepares and the information that he gives to you," Max Scherzer said this weekend.

"So I'm excited to pick his mind as well. It's always good to have new faces and new ideas because that's how you get better."

"I actually worked with Mike in 2011," Gio Gonzalez said, "when we met together to go to the All-Star Game in Arizona. He was my pitching coach and his brother [Greg] was my pitching coach for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. So I had a chance to work with them both and I love them both, their personalities, you can tell they're definitely brothers."

"I'm open to learning from anybody obviously," Stephen Strasburg told reporters. "Mike comes with a good track record, so I'm excited to pick his brain."

"I think a lot of it is just with time," Strasburg said of getting to know a new pitching coach. "It's something you don't really force. I think communication is a good thing between the pitcher and the pitching coach. Especially for the starter. Just going over the game plans before the game, maybe mechanical tweaks. All of us here have been throwing and know our bodies the best and know how it should feel, so a lot of times it's us coaching ourselves and just picking their brains for enlightenment."

Joe Ross, the youngest expected member of the rotation, got his first chance to talk to Maddux at WinterFest.

"I've talked to him a little bit. I haven't really met him before today. He seems like a really good guy," Ross said.

"Just joking around and keeping it pretty loose, so I'm sure during the season if that's how it is, then he'll get along pretty well with the guys."

Maddux talked about working with young pitchers like Ross and established veterans like Strasburg and Scherzer and how they can influence each other as well.

"Well, when you get those established guys, that are good examples, boy it sure makes coaching a younger guy a lot easier," Maddux said. "Because you can always say, 'See, look what he does. See what he does? That's how you do it.' Sometimes a leader by example is just as powerful as a leader by word."

The Nationals are moving on after parting ways with McCatty, who was just the second pitching coach in the team's history (2005-present).

As Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview last month, they simply felt it might be time for a change and a new voice.

"I think it was a little bit of a new fit a new direction, a new voice for some of the pitchers and that type of thing," he said.

"It's a staff that's got a lot of quality stuff and needs a little bit of refinement. And I think Mike is such -- not only a mechanically-savvy pitcher, but he's also intellectual and knows the thought process of not only the starting pitchers but the relievers and I thought it would be a good match with Dusty and he was available. We were fortunate that he was available and when we saw that he was available we jumped on it."

Maddux is looking forward to getting started, though there's still some time to study up on his new staff.

"Really on paper, the inventory is outstanding and that's something I'm really looking forward to."