WASHINGTON – Justin Lord, 40, spent most of this summer during the baseball shutdown at his home in Georgia with his wife and daughter.
He did some woodworking projects and some renovation projects around his house – but he also spent a lot of time communicating with young pitchers in the Washington Nationals’ farm system.
Lord was on tap to be the Single-A Fredericksburg pitching coach before the minor league season was called off this year due to the pandemic.
The Alabama native spent a lot of time on Zoom calls with young pitchers in the minor league system of the Nationals, including Jackson Rutledge, the top pick in 2019; Matt Cronin, a fourth-round pick in 2019; Cole Henry, selected in the second round this year out of LSU; Jake Irvin, a fourth-round pick this summer out of Oklahoma; and lefty Seth Romero, who had not pitched above low Single-A Hagerstown before appearing in three games with the Nationals this year then hurting his non-throwing hand.
“I got to know a lot of these guys over the phone,” Lord told Federal Baseball from Florida, where he is part of the coaching staff for the Instructional League.
“Doing the Zoom calls were great; I did the Zoom calls about every other week. I spoke with the guys (on the phone) on a weekly basis and for me it was beneficial.”
“I was able to develop a relationship, talking one-on-one. It is just easier for some guys to open up about things one-on-one than it is in a group setting. The combination of the two styles of communication was beneficial to me,” he added.
Lord stresses the mental side of pitching and that is huge this year as many hurlers didn’t have a normal summer.
“For sure. A lot of these guys had to be very diligent in their preparation,” Lord said. “We want to hold them accountable to continue to train like it means something because it does. This is their season. A lot of those guys were able to get a lot of good work in this summer and you can see it the way they are right now.”
“We are liking a lot of what we are seeing,” he added. “It is a tribute to their work effort over the summer.”
Lord was the bullpen coach on Tuesday in West Palm Beach as the Nationals began the Instructional League season with a 4-3 win over the visiting Marlins. Cade Cavalli, the top pick this year out of Oklahoma, was the starting pitcher and went three innings.
“It was pretty exciting. I was actually a little giddy to put the uniform again,” Lord said. “You go a whole year of not doing anything, it kind of throws your whole frame of reference off. You kind of forget when you did things. It was fun honestly to get down here and put the uniform on and have the clubhouse atmosphere again and see the guys. I was here from the start of it.”
While not part of the Alternate Training Site in Virginia, Lord had access to video of the intrasquad workouts in Fredericksburg this summer.
Several pitchers and position players advanced from the alternate site to the majors, including pitchers Romero, Wil Crowe, and Ben Braymer and outfielders Andrew Stevenson and Yadiel Hernandez.
“I would watch the games the next morning,” Lord said. “I would get up and watch a replay of the game on one of our (internal) programs.”
“I am into woodworking and I did some woodworking projects. I also did some renovations to our house while I was at home,” said Lord, who pitched at Florida State and in the minors with Kansas City and Pittsburgh. “Time went by pretty fast for me.”
“I also did some baseball lessons; I did a mental skills workshop for local athletes” in the Augusta, Georgia area, he said. “It was a workshop over five weeks and we had a different topic we discussed each week. They were ages 12 to 18 so their parents were part of it as well. I am a big proponent of the mental side of the game and training the mental side of the game.”
“I like preparing our minds for what comes our way and react to obstacles and success and failure. I did a lot of [that] while I was home,” he added.
Lord served as the pitching coach for the high Single-A Frederick (Md.) Keys in the Baltimore system last year in the Carolina League.
He moved to Washington and was in Florida for a few weeks before baseball shut down in March.
Lord will be in Florida until October 14 before heading back home to Augusta and getting ready for Spring Training. “I hope things are going fairly normal” by then, he said.