At first it seemed like a few weeks off might be of some benefit to Washington Nationals’ pitchers and players. They had gone through the entire 2019 postseason, all the way to the final week of October and Game 7 of the World Series last Fall, but now that we’re two months out from the decision to end Spring Training and postpone the start of the regular and there’s still no set plan for when/if there will be a 2020 campaign, it’s more a question of how everyone will come out of the home quarantine necessitated by the spread of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.
“At the very start of this I felt like that could be an advantage to us,” Chip Hale, the bench-coach-turned-third-base-coach for the Nationals, told SiriusXM MLB Network Radio hosts Eduardo Perez and Jim Duquette in an interview on Monday morning.
“I felt like maybe three/four weeks of giving the guys a little bit of a rest could have been nice, especially with our veteran pitchers and all the innings they’ve logged ... pitching into right there at the beginning of November, but I think at this point now, we’re all stuck back at zero. I know talking — we have a Zoom call every week with the coaches, and just talking to Paul Menhart, our pitching coach, who talks to most of the pitchers each week, they’re just searching for what to do. They’re trying to hold the level they were [at] when Spring Training ended and everybody was good and healthy and on their way, so I think it’s frustrating now for them, and how long will we need to ramp up, that’s the big question.”
With rumored plans now calling for a start to Spring Training 2.0 in June and the start of the 2020 season in early July, teams and their players have some idea of what it might take to get ramped up to play again, with expanded rosters, a shorter schedule (80+ games is an estimate in recent reports), and a “regionalized” schedule that limits travel, but there are still a lot of questions about how this will all work if it does.
Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I'll be looking for in the proposal...— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
Like, for example, will Hale have to wear a mask on the field as a third base coach, and how, if he does, will he match it with the Nationals uniforms? You know, the big questions.
“It’s funny you say that,” he joked with the MLBNR hosts, “because about a month ago my wife ordered a bunch of masks from the same group that makes all the wives’ t-shirts and sweatshirts and outfits they wear during the playoffs, so I have a really cool one.
“It’s kind of an American flag mask that I wear it everywhere here in Tucson. I’m sure if we get started they may give us masks we’re supposed to wear that may be a little bit safer or we can use more often, but I got a couple that she ordered for me that are pretty good.”
Hale has, of course, coached third base before, and he’s moving back out there after two years as Davey Martinez’s bench coach in the nation’s capital because the manager made the decision to shake things up with his coaching staff in order to keep everyone fresh in their third year together in D.C.
“Davey called me probably a week after we got home from the World Series,” Hale said when asked about the changing roles for the coaching staff, which included Hale’s shift over to third base, Tim Bogar becoming bench coach, and Bobby Henley moving to first base from third.
“And [Davey] just decided he wanted to make some changes, and ... rotate guys around, not really lose anybody, but just keep it fresh, that was kind of what [GM] Mike Rizzo and both of them — that was their message for us, was just to keep it fresh. We’re all professionals, we’ve all done this before, I’ve coached third base before, [Tim Bogar] has been a bench coach before, so that’s sort of the whole theme of it.
“We really didn’t change a lot. The one thing that I’ll do this year that I didn’t get into last year was move infielders around and position them with our analytics department helping me, so that’s kind of the only change.”
Was there any concern, or superstition about changing things up after the Nationals won it all this past season?
“I don’t know if I could have done it if I was in charge,” Hale joked. “But you know what, that’s the way it goes.
“Maybe this is something he thought about throughout the season, you know, we had a strange year, starting off poorly, and we got hot, and obviously won the World Series, but maybe this is things that they had discussed, and they just said, ‘Let’s keep it going. We want to keep things fresh.’”
So, the hosts joked, Hale has to know if the Nationals win again he might have to move to first base in 2021, right?
“You never know,” he said, “maybe I’ll be in the bullpen, who knows what’s going to happen next. But you know what, if we win it again, I’ll go wherever they want.”