As the Nationals’ season ended today, the fate of the Nationals’ coaching staff fell into uncertainty, into the hands of a yet-to-be-identified successor to Davey Johnson. No coach has been in his current position longer than pitching coach Steve McCatty, who was promoted to big league pitching coach midway through the 2009 season.
McCatty, the endearing curmudgeon who has developed close ties to the Nationals’ largely homegrown pitching staff, hopes to return no matter who replaces Johnson. But he also knows it may not be his choice.
“That’s up to Mike Rizzo and whoever they bring in,” McCatty said. “If he wants me back, I’d be really excited. If he feels he needs his own guy, that’s the nature of baseball. It would be disappointing if it worked out that way, but you never know until it happens. It’s what we do. It sucks, but it’s what we have to deal with.”
McCatty irascible and fun-loving style has grown on his pitchers. Some of them, like Craig Stammen and Tyler Clippard, have pitched for him since he served as the Nationals’ Class AAA pitching coach.
“Cat has to come back,” Clippard said. “If he doesn’t come back, there’s something wrong. He’s got to come back. He’s been with me for a long time, but from a selfish perspective, that’s understandable that I would say that. But I think most importantly, he’s built up a great pitching staff in the big leagues. We understand what he wants out of us and we understand what we want out of him. There’s no reason to change that. I feel like we’ve been pretty good.”
Since 2010, McCatty’s first full season, the Nationals’ 3.66 ERA ranks seventh in the majors. He has helped develop Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and many others. Beyond his accomplishments, McCatty hopes to stay because of the personal connections he has acquired.
“I don’t think you really know how much they mean,” McCatty said. “I’ve had a lot of guys – Stammen and Clippard, now Strassy and Zimm. You build up a lot of really good, long-lasting relationships. So it would mean a lot. Like I say, being in this game for as long as I have, you understand that’s part of it. It sucks. The life of a coach is not easy.”
Bench coach Randy Knorr, of course, has emerged as the strongest in-house candidate to replace Johnson. Shortstop Ian Desmond reiterated his preference that Knorr becomes the manager. “He’s been a tremendous influence on my career and for me to say anybody else but Randy would be a lie,” Desmond said. Without naming him, Clippard also stumped for Knorr.
“The clubhouse is in a good spot,” Clippard said. “The only thing I ask of whoever makes the decisions on the managerial side of things is: Don’t mess it up. We’ve got a good thing going on. We’ve got a good thing here. Hopefully whoever comes in here next year realizes that and the dynamic of the chemistry that we’ve built over the last two seasons is a very important thing. I think somebody who is more familiar with the dynamic of the clubhouse is going to be more beneficial to the organization as a whole. So whoever it is, as long as they understand that, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bullpen coach Jim Lett, third base coach Trent Jewett, first base coach Tony Tarasco and hitting coach Rick Schu will also wait to have their future decided.
Jewett, formerly Syracuse’s manager, is highly respected within the clubhouse. Though he appears not be consider as strong a candidate as Knorr, he may receive an interview for the managerial vacancy.
Tarasco has risen up the organization; Bryce Harper credits him in his transition from amateur catcher to big league outfielder.
Lett came aboard with Manager Jim Riggleman and is well-liked by Nationals relievers.
After Schu replaced Rick Eckstein midway through the season, the Nationals’ offense took off, scoring more than a run per game more than it had under Eckstein.