Hired as a Pitching Coach for Class-A Savannah in 2006, when the Sand Gnats were one of Washington’s affiliates, Paul Menhart worked his way up in the Nationals’ organization, with stops at each level before he was promoted to the job of Pitching Coordinator for the entire system in 2015, and then Pitching Coach in the majors this past May when the Nats decided to part ways with Derek Lilliquist.
Over the five months that followed his promotion, Menhart, 50, helped guide the Nationals to the World Series championship, wrapping up a whirlwind season for everyone in D.C., but especially for the former big league pitcher.
“It kind of just flowed day by day,” Menhart told reporters when he spoke at WinterFest in the nation’s capital earlier this month, “... and then all of a sudden we’ve got champagne just dumped all over us. That’s how fast it really seemed like it happened, but the attitude was, ‘We’ll be fine,’ throughout the whole ordeal, no matter what our record was at the time that I first got here, I knew we would be fine.”
The future World Series champs were 13-17 on May 2nd, when the Nationals decided to go with Menhart, on their way to 19-31 at the end of the month before they started to turn the corner, but their Pitching Coach had faith they’d straighten things out.
“We were going to get healthy,” Menhart said, “and the acquisitions that we made last year proved to be great, with [Daniel] Hudson, and [Gerardo] Parra and Asdrúbal [Cabrera], and [Hunter] Strickland, it just really played out perfectly.”
Since the Series ended up with the Nationals’ dramatic Game 7 win, Menhart has been at coaching conventions, he’s taken part in panel discussions, and he has given the same lessons he’s always given to young players trying to learn about the game. He’s in more demand now, of course, because of one important new note on his résumé.
“I’ve never been pulled — this, there, over there, here,” Menhart said, “and then the lessons that I used to give, I just — unfortunately it’s hard for me to say no, so it’s been difficult to accommodate all these young kids and their parents thinking, ‘Oh, World Series champion pitching coach, ahh, let’s get lessons from him, make my kid a professional!’
“But it’s been really, really fun, and outstanding. This whole experience, the offseason, I think it’s all starting to sink in what we did last year, and it’s been tremendously awesome.”
The page has turned, however, and it’s all about 2020 now, and preparing to defend their World Series championship after a longer-than-usual season for the Nationals.
“What’s happening is, it’s such a unique situation, because you only have three months off,” Menhart said of the preparations for the new campaign, “... and now I’ve talked to everybody, basically everybody, about how they’re feeling and whatnot, and they all feel great. They all took enough time off and they’re on schedule to be ready to go in Spring Training. Our hope is to get out of the chute a little bit in better shape when the clock starts, Game 1, so that they’re not necessarily in midseason form, but pretty darn close to it.”
That, of course, suggests that they weren’t necessarily in midseason form at the start in 2019, as manager Davey Martinez has said previously this winter.
“That’s something that I was told too,” Menhart said. “I think we probably just need to do a better job of getting guys multiple innings and multiple back-to-back outings during Spring Training so that they’re ready for the rigors of a regular season.”
How will they approach Spring Training this time around, with the goal of being ready for the regular season, and the workload from 2019 in mind?
“They’re going to be smart and not rush into their bullpen sessions in the offseason before they get to Spring Training,” Menhart said of the pitching staff he’ll handle from the start in 2020.
“They had to take some time off. Some guys don’t like to take time off, they like to throw a little bit so they don’t get too rusty, which is fine, everybody is a little bit different, and we accommodate those that need a little more time and those that we deem need guidance, we give them the guidance, so I anticipate everybody being ready to go at whatever pace they need individually.
“I don’t put everybody in a box, we don’t put everybody in a box, but we will have guys ready to go, Day 1.”