It’s probably a distant, distant, distant second to “Will Bryce Harper be back in D.C. in 2019?” questions, but everyone with the Washington Nationals should be prepared for “How will you deal with the pressure of the playoff failures in the past?”-type questions as things finally get underway in 2018.
How did new Nats’ bench coach Chip Hale respond when asked during an MLB Network Radio interview on Saturday how his new team would respond to their fourth loss in the NLDS in the last six seasons?
“In talking to Davey [Martinez], that was one of the things that I was really impressed with,” Hale said, referring to conversations he’s had with the Nationals’ new manager, who’s been to the World Series, and won one in his time with the Chicago Cubs.
“And maybe this is his background with Joe [Maddon],” Hale continued, “[but] the feeling that I get from him, and we’ll see, Spring Training will let us know, is that it’s something he’s not afraid of. He’s not afraid to talk about being the playoffs. He’s not afraid [to talk] about winning, about losing, it’s not a big deal to him, and I think that will rub off better on the players, instead of being so pressurized. He’s just saying, ‘We’re going to go and we’re going to win.’ And that’s the bottom line, and if we don’t we don’t, but we’re not going to play with one hand around our throat.”
With a new team, a new season, and a mostly-new coaching staff, the past really has no impact on what happens going forward.
“We’re going to go out and have fun and enjoy it, and the team, we’ll see what identity they’ll give us this year,” Hale said. “Every team has a different identity. And I think we know about the talent. I’ve said it many times. But we just don’t know, injuries and all that kind of stuff like that and what our system is going to provide from the minor leagues, but I think Davey is really going to provide a looseness to this group.”
The group of players Martinez, Hale and the rest of the new members of the Nats’ staff will inherit is obviously a talented one, and the bench coach was asked what the expectations are as they try to win their third straight NL East crown.
“It will be interesting,” Hale told Sirius/XM hosts Sam Ryan and Kevin Kennedy. “I think Mike [Rizzo] and Davey put together a really good staff. Obviously Kevin Long coming over as the hitting guy, he has such a history with Daniel [Murphy]. And you know how it is, when guys on the team can sort of vouch for the coach, especially the hitting and the pitching guys are really important, because the players today, they can get on that Google, and they know everything about you before you even get there.
“We’re excited about it. I think the attitude is this team is obviously talented, we know that, it’s been to the playoffs numerous times, just hasn’t gotten over the hump. So, with this staff that we put together, and the players, I know Davey has been really, really strong about saying, ‘Hey, we are playing to play deep into the playoffs and the World Series,’ there’s just nothing else you can say about it. It’s not like we’re trying to build. These guys know how to win, it’s just a matter of maybe taking that next step, which I’m excited to see. Being a bench coach under Davey, and he’s done this with Joe, they’ve been to the World Series and won it, it’s exciting stuff, and we all know as coaches we want to learn from each other.”
Hale’s job, as he understands it, will be to provide Martinez, a first-year manager, after ten seasons as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and Chicago, with all the support he can give him.
“I think I’ll be way more involved with Davey,” as opposed to how he worked with Oakland A’s skipper Bob Melvin when he served as the Athletics’ bench coach.
“We’ll talk about what exactly he wants out of me, which, in fact, we talked the other day, when we get to West Palm Beach we’ll talk more about it,” Hale said.
“Am I going to control the running game? That’s going to be up to him. And so I am excited to help him, and as you know as a bench coach, as you know as a manager, there are times where I have to just kind of stay out of it because he needs to make a decision and I’ll give him all the information I need to.”
That’s going to be a big part of his job, Hale explained when asked about the long-running analytics vs scouting/eye test debate.
“I think it’s important now, you have got to weigh it all together. The best teams do that,” Hale said. “You see Terry Francona, you see the guys like that, and they use everything that’s given to them, and then in the end, Tony [La Russa] used to always tell me, ‘Hey, in the end, you put all the numbers you get and then you trust your gut.’ I kind of call it an ‘educated gut’, that’s what we have now, instead of just sort of sitting back and watching, we digest all the numbers, we know the matchups, we know the analytics, and then on that certain day we know who’s feeling the best, we can see it, whether it’s BP, whether it’s how they come into the clubhouse sometimes, you know, if they’re having a tough day at home. So you put all that stuff together and then you make the best decision you can.
“You know, from managing, the media is going to ask you all those questions. And now that entails the analytics. Some of the people in the media, they have just as much of the analytics, and they have it pretty good, so you’re going to have to answer for all those things.”
While Hale is still getting to know Martinez, he has history with the Nationals’ GM, and he said he’s looking forward working together again.
“I’m excited about being back with Mike Rizzo,” Hale said.
“Mike and I were together in Arizona. He built the drafts for us and I was a minor league manager, so I know he knows how to evaluate talent. So it’s nice to be back with him, then Davey Martinez, I’m really excited for him to get this opportunity to manage. He’s been doing this with Joe Maddon for a long time.
“And as you know... he deserves this opportunity. A lot of times we’re seeing guys get these jobs now just coming straight off the field or out of the front offices and different things, but this guy has been on the bench for a long time and I’m excited to help him and obviously we think we have a pretty good ballclub for his first opportunity.”