WASHINGTON – Nationals’ pitching coach Paul Menhart and Brad Holman, the pitching coordinator in player development, have not been in the same room for several weeks.
“We were able to get together during Spring Training 2.0,” said Menhart, who worked with Holman in Florida before Spring Training shut down in March.
But their ability to communicate has been important this season – and has been tested due to injuries, the pandemic, and under-performance by some pitchers.
Holman has been at the alternate site in Fredericksburg, Virginia most of the summer.
“We have the ability to discuss things openly and honestly,” Holman told Federal Baseball on Friday. “I agree with what he says about (shared) philosophy. I think he is confident with my knowledge as well. Paul feels comfortable with me. Obviously, all of our conversations are via the phone.”
“I was lucky to have Brad as a pitching coach when I was a coordinator,” Menhart told Federal Baseball. “We built a relationship of trust and understanding, with the same philosophy. His ability to relate to these players is very special. He has a personality that is off the charts. It is not just doing the Xs and Ox but it is being good with people, and Brad is good with people.”
The same has been said of Menhart, by many of the pitchers he has worked within the Nationals’ system.
Menhart was in the organization for several years, as a minor league pitching coach and coordinator, before Holman joined the Nationals in 2018 as the pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.
“We used to walk in the morning at Spring Training,” with instructors Randy Knorr and Brian Daubauch, Holman noted of that first Spring Training together. Menhart “... didn’t know me from Adam. That was very valuable for me. I was about to hear what he expected. I know I was feeling him out and he was probably feeling me out.”
“There was a trust factor going both ways. Sometimes those guys that have to grind for everything, there is something to be said for that. I was a grinder myself. I had to work hard for everything I got. I was never given any (big bonus) money,” added Holman, a 35th round pick in 1990 out of Auburn by the Royals. “I had to survive – that type of perseverance comes from a life of hard knocks.”
Doug Harris, an assistant general manager and vice president in player personnel with the Nationals, gets a lot of credit for the relationship between the two coaches. Harris is the former director of player development.
“That is all due to the fact Doug Harris hires quality individuals. I want to make that be known first and foremost. That is probably the most important thing,” Menhart said of Harris, a former pitcher at James Madison University and in the minors with the Royals, Orioles, and Marlins.
In essence, Menhart and Holman have switched roles in the past 16 months.
Menhart, who pitched in college at Western Carolina, was the roving coordinator in the minor leagues until he was tabbed to take over as the pitching coach in the majors in May 2019. Holman was the pitching coach last year for Triple-A Fresno in the Pacific League – the top farm club of the Nats.
“I think it is just a comfortable relationship with each other,” Holman said. “I respect him and I think that is mutual. I hope it is a good feeling for him to send a (pitcher) here or wherever. We are going to give it our best effort to help that guy move forward.”
“When we discuss guys, Paul is wide open to hearing opinions. That is a tough gig (in the majors) where he is at. A lot people want a piece of your time, a lot of people want to give you their opinions. I am sure it gets overbearing. To Paul’s credit he asks for opinions. He is just a special character in that regard. He is not the type of guy that likes to lord over everything. He wants to hear what everyone thinks.”
The last-place Nationals had a team ERA of 5.14 through games of Thursday and were 19-29 after beating the Marlins in the first game of doubleheader on Friday.
Among the pitchers Holman has sent from Fredericksburg to Menhart at Nationals Park this season are Ben Braymer, Wil Crowe, Aaron Barrett, and Seth Romero.
This year has been a challenge with Holman in Virginia and Menhart traveling with the Nats. Plus there have been injuries such as the one to Romero – whom Holman said on Friday was throwing on flat ground with a cast on his non-throwing (right) hand after going on the 10-Day Injured List on August 24th.
“The (low) number is the biggest thing; we don’t have the 100s of pitchers we have an organization to worry about” in 2020, Menhart said. “He has a smaller handful of guys down there we pick and choose from. There are daily updates about how guys are doing. We are getting reports on them every day. Davey (Martinez), and Mike (Rizzo) and I trust the staff that is down there.”
And that includes Holman and Tommy Shields, the co-field coordinator in player development with Jeff Garber – a former JMU teammate with Harris.
“His style is one with both knowledge and great people skills,” Menhart said of Holman. “He finds a way to give these kids the truth to be a big-league pitcher.”
Both are former Major League pitchers who had limited success or time at the highest level and both were drafted in 1990 out of college.
St. Louis native and Connecticut-raised Menhart, 51, pitched in 41 games for three teams from 1995-97.
Born in Kansas City, Auburn product Holman, 52, appeared in 19 games out of the bullpen in 1993 for Seattle.
No one took over the role for Menhart, drafted in the ninth round out of Western Carolina by Toronto, in the minors when he took the job in the majors last year when Derek Lilliquist was let go in the spring of 2019. Spin Williams, a long-time pitching instructor and advisor, took on more duties once Menhart was promoted.
“Doug Harris and I talked with Spin Williams when I got that job. That decision at the time there we were not going to go with anyone the remainder of the year” in the coordinator role, Menhart said of 2019 season. “Spin took most of the responsibilities.”
Holman was named the player development coordinator before spring training this year.
“Brad was on a very shortlist. To be honest with you, I don’t know if there was anyone else that was considered,” Menhart said.
So what happens when two don’t agree on which pitcher should be promoted or demoted?
“Paul is the Major League pitching coach. The buck stops with him,” Holman noted. “Most importantly, he hears my opinion, not that he goes with what I think. He listens - that’s all that matters. I’m here to support him and the Major League team.