A few months after he signed a long-term extension and then made some changes to his coaching staff for his fourth year in Washington, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez gave reporters an explanation for the decision to shake things up again after shuffling them up for the follow-up to 2019’s World Series win.
Martinez replaced pitching coach Paul Menhart with his old friend Jim Hickey, then brought organizational stalwart Randy Knorr up as first base coach, with Bob Henley moving back to third base to take the place of Chip Hale, who left the organization after three years as part of the manager’s staff.
In addition, bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Kevin Long, who was not coming back to D.C. and then did, assistant Hitting coach Pat Roessler, and bullpen coach Henry Blanco are all returning.
Why did Martinez make the changes he made?
“For me, I had an opportunity to get a few guys that I’ve had long relationships with. Guys that I trust. Jim Hickey, Randy Knorr,” Martinez explained earlier this winter.
“Both guys, I feel like they’re like me, they’re baseball rats. They love the game. They’re very intuitive. I worked with Hickey in Tampa. He’s amazing. He knows a lot about the game. Not just about pitching, but about the game itself. Same thing with Randy. Randy has been in this organization for a long time. I’ve known him for a long time.
“He was the bench coach here at one point. So he’s very knowledgeable.
“I brought two guys in who I really feel would fit the bill for us, and would work great with me and the rest of the staff.”
Hickey said the appeal of the job in D.C., outside of the obvious like his past relationship with Martinez, was the talent assembled in the nation’s capital, and the arms coming up within the organization.
“It’s really, really top-heavy when you look at that rotation,” Hickey said. “I know that this past season, things didn’t go quite as planned.
“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.
“I started to do a lot of homework as this was becoming a possibility and digging into some of the numbers.
“There’s so much there in terms of upside, absolutely, positively, so that’s really exciting.”
The Nationals have since added veteran lefty Jon Lester to the mix behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, signing a pitcher Martinez and Hickey, (who was pitching coach in Chicago in 2017 when Martinez was the bench coach and Lester was still with the Cubs), both know well.
The opportunity to work with the other coaches on Martinez’s staff and pick each others’ brains is appealing as well, Hickey told reporters after his hiring was announced.
“I am extremely open to it. I invite that,” he said of receiving input from other coaches on the staff. “Some of my best relationships on staffs that I’ve been on have been with hitting coaches, with the hitting coach. Just because of the fact that I’m always bouncing things off of him and he’s always bouncing things off of me, or, ‘What did you see?’ And I have no problem whatsoever if someone sidles up next to me during the inning and just saying, ‘Hey, are you seeing what I’m seeing?’-type of a thing, and Davey obviously has a lot of experience playing, coaching, and managing and he was very good at that as well. So I think that is going to be something that is going to be pretty flawless — maybe not flawless is not the right word, but just nice and easy, it’s not going to take any kind of adjustment there because we have known each other for a long time.”
When they all reunite in West Palm Beach for what everyone involved is hoping will be a traditional Spring Training, Martinez said he’ll apply lessons learned from 2020’s rushed build-up to the 60-game COVID campaign, and come up with a plan to get everyone in camp ready for the 2021 season.
“What I learned a lot about our Spring Training 2.0 last year, because of what we had to do, what we did as far as getting guys in and doing more individual work... I really liked it,” the manager said.
“And I want to do more of that in Spring Training this year where we do just a lot more individual work and really hone in on guys on their weaknesses and get them better.
“I sat down with [Bogar] and our coaching staff, we’re trying to put a plan together.
“Obviously, Spring Training is based around out pitchers getting ready for the season, but I think there’s a way that we can actually incorporate a lot of individual work. We always talk about doing early work at 8:00 in the morning, but more or less bringing guys in — my plan is to bring guys in at different times of the day and get individual work and not bring them in there at 8:00 when they’re probably half asleep, but getting them in there 9:00-10:00, 11:00, and then after that going into some batting practice and doing our team fundamentals, so we’re going to do a lot more individual work, get these guys ready to go, and like I said, work on a lot of their weaknesses and get them better.”