Davey Martinez brought old friend Jim Hickey in as the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach shortly after signing a multi-year extension with the ballclub early last winter, and he explained at the time that he was taking the opportunity to, “... get a few guys that I’ve had long relationships with ... guys that I trust,” in as part of his staff.
Hickey, he said, “he’s amazing. He knows a lot about the game. Not just about pitching, but about the game itself.”
The new pitching coach told reporters after joining the team that he was excited about the opportunity to work with the pitchers the club assembled for the 2021 campaign.
“It’s really, really top-heavy when you look at that rotation,” Hickey said after joining the club following stints in the same role in Houston, Tampa Bay, and Chicago.
“I know that this past season, things didn’t go quite as planned,” he added.
“But when you look at that rotation — and if you can get those guys to being back healthy and back to where they were even just a calendar year ago — that’s really, really exciting.”
Of course, we know now how things turned out. Not as planned for anyone involved. Or as GM Mike Rizzo said succinctly this past Sunday afternoon, “you leave Spring Training with a set of five starters and you turn around and you’ve got one of the five left. Life comes at you fast.”
Stephen Strasburg (neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome) and Joe Ross (partial UCL tear) both ended up on the Injured List, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester were dealt at the July 30 trade deadline, and Patrick Corbin struggled for second consecutive season after helping Washington win the World Series in the first year of his 6-year/$140M deal with the club.
“I think the pitching definitely has to improve,” Rizzo said, stating the obvious, before the season finale this past Sunday.
“This game is built on pitching, it’s built on starting pitching for me, and we have to get better in that aspect for sure.”
Is it reasonable to expect Strasburg, Ross, and Corbin to all bounce back in 2022, or do the Nats have to bring in some pitching via trades or free agency to supplement the pitching they added at the deadline, and the pitchers who worked their way up from the minors this season, and the others who are coming back?
“I think that it’s a reasonable expectation that Strasburg and Patrick and Ross have to pitch more effectively and more often for us to quicken this reboot,” Rizzo said, “but this thing is build on starting pitching, starting pitching depth, and that’s what we’re trying to obtain via free agency, draft, and that type of thing like we have in the past.”
Martinez was clear when he spoke before the penultimate game of the season that he plans to have Hickey back as his pitching coach in 2022, so the blame for the Nationals’ issues on the mound this past season isn’t falling on their pitching coach’s shoulders.
“Hickey will be back, yeah,” the fourth-year skipper said.
“I think Hickey has been great,” Martinez added. “Hickey’s voice has been heard. He does a great job of communicating with pitchers day in and day out. He’s always on the field with these guys, he’s always communicating with these guys, he’s done some things to help pitchers mechanically. He’s taught some pitchers different grips on sliders and changeups.
“He’s worked diligently to try to get Patrick right, and I think the last four or five starts we’ve seen that he’s heading in the right direction. But that’s all work that Hickey’s done, whether it’s watching videos, going out there in the bullpens with him, and doing all kinds of things to try to hone in on what went what wrong and [what] we can do to fix them.”
Before the 2021 season came to an end, Hickey was hard at work setting his pitchers up for the offseason and designing a plan to monitor their work over the winter.
“That’s just Hickey,” Martinez said, “and I’ve known him for a lot of years. He works hard, he works diligently, he spends hours and hours assessing hitters, and he knows — the funny thing is he knows our hitters really well as well because he watches all that, but he’s been great, and I can’t wait for him to get these guys with him for another year and continue to work with them, and his job is never over, we’ve already been talking about this winter, what he’s going to do this winter. The communication is still going to be there, he wants to Zoom, he wants to have guys video wherever they’re throwing, and watch them to make sure that they’re not doing something they’re not supposed to be doing and trying to help them do what they need to be doing to get ready for next spring.”