WASHINGTON - Pitching coach Paul Menhart stood in the Nationals’ dugout Thursday night, a mask covering his face and a clipboard in his left hand at Nationals Park.
Standing in front of him was lefty pitcher Patrick Corbin, who had just extracted himself from a seventh-inning dilemma by striking out Amed Rosario with the bases loaded and two outs in a game Washington eventually lost, 3-2 to the New York Mets.
It would be the last pitch of significance that Corbin would throw this season – and now he joins Menhart as someone already looking forward to spring training 2021.
“We have really good communication when it comes to stuff we are working on or want to improve upon,” Menhart told Federal Baseball on Friday of Corbin.
“We will circle back on what he thinks he needs to do moving forward next year, to keep improving. The discussion was also about how he is finally feeling” strong, although the season ends Sunday.
“There was a lot of good to take out of that outing,” Menhart added as Corbin allowed three runs in seven innings.
The starter Friday will be Max Scherzer (4-4, 3.67), looking to clinch his 11th straight winning season in the majors.
That would tie Clayton Kershaw for the longest active streak, according to Elias.
There was no talk of not using Scherzer even with the Nationals eliminated.
“He wants to compete; he would compete against his neighbors right now,” Menhart said Friday. “He wants to show the world how good he is.”
With the defending champions eliminated, Menhart will begin packing up for his drive to his home near Savannah, Georgia. He said he will watch the playoffs on television.
“I am a baseball fan (and) it is part of my job,” he said. “I am going to watch it. I love it.”
Menhart, 51, has yet to have a “real” or full Spring Training as Washington’s pitching coach.
In mid-March this year, after a few weeks in West Palm Beach, the pandemic caused Spring Training in Florida and Arizona to shut down.
But Menhart emphasized his staff was prepared when camps were closed.
“We felt very excited,” he said Menhart. “We were ready to go; they were locked and ready to go. We were very excited about where everybody was. It was extremely unfortunate that we had to put it on hold. They were exactly where they needed to be.”
Menhart and his pitchers re-convened for Summer Camp at Nationals Park in July. But with no fans, the Nationals were not able to take a victory lap this year.
“You always look forward to celebrating any championship with the fans,” Menhart said. “We could not have won it without them. We missed them this year, big-time. They could have been there if the safety protocols were a little bit different. We truly do miss them.”
On the field, Washington (23-34) has a team ERA of 5.13 going into Friday’s game against the Mets. Last year that mark was 4.27; the Nationals will end the season with one of the worst winning percentages for any defending champion.
Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP, pitched just two games before right wrist carpal tunnel neuritis ended his year.
The Nationals also were careful with other veterans and did not make any trades at the deadline.
“We were very cautious. We had to look at the big picture,” Menhart said regarding health.
“Mike Rizzo has been doing this for a lot longer than I have. I would never second-guess anything he does.”
Menhart took over in Game 31 last year after former pitching coach Derek Lilliquist was let go in early May after a game in D.C. against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Nationals were 13-17 before Menhart came on board last season. Washington ended up 93-69 – and played 17 more games in the postseason.
Born in St. Louis and raised in Connecticut, Menhart pitched in 1995 for Toronto and one of the Jays’ catchers that year was Randy Knorr, a former Nationals’ coach who is now the Triple-A Fresno manager.
Menhart then played for Seattle in 1996 – a club that included future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and Ken Griffey, Jr.
In his final year in the majors, Menhart was part of a San Diego team in 1997 that was managed by Bruce Bochy.
Menhart was out of baseball after his playing career before he became a coach at Western Carolina, his alma mater, and later joined the Nationals.
While Menhart pitched in just 41 games and posted a 5.47 ERA in the majors, he learned a lot from his managers and coaches. He has carried that over to his tenure with the Nationals, which had him coaching in the minors for several years before he got the Major League job.
“The fact that he listens as well,” said Martinez, when asked what makes Menhart a good communicator. “He is willing to listen. He takes everything in before he starts to help.”
Menhart said he was encouraged by young pitchers who had a chance to pitch in the majors for the first time in 2020, including Seth Romero and Wil Crowe.
“I am excited we got a lot of kids opportunities that I don’t know if they would have” in a normal year, he said. “It would have been nice to see how they would have done with the fans.
“I am a little disappointed with some of the injuries I consider inevitable and unfortunate” as pitchers had about three weeks to get ready in Summer Camp.
“I wish there was a better way to get them ready for this (60-game) sprint,” he added. “I don’t have an answer for what we could have done differently.”