In the days after the Nationals parted ways with manager Dusty Baker, many people within the organization expressed their hope that Mike Maddux might stay as pitching coach. But he headed to St. Louis to fill the vacancy left when the Cardinals chose to part ways with Derek Lilliquist after six-plus seasons in the same position there. Suddenly, the Nationals’ pitching staff — the backbone of their recent run of relevance — was in need of a third coach in four seasons.
That job will go to Lilliquist, the team announced Thursday. The Nationals and Cardinals are effectively swapping pitching coaches, bringing the 51-year-old groundball guru to Washington. The Nationals also announced the hiring of former Rays and Red Sox assistant Tim Bogar as first base coach and former Syracuse Chiefs hitting coach Joe Dillon as assistant hitting coach, while making official the hiring of former Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale as bench coach, a hire reported here Wednesday.
Lilliquist took over as Cardinals pitching coach in 2012, replacing the legendary Dave Duncan (whom he filled in for on an interim basis in 2011) and bringing an emphasis on inducing weak contact — an approach the Cardinals seemed to decide was somewhat out of date. In the wake of Lilliquist’s departure last month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Cardinals executive John Mozeliak “wanted to rethink the strategy of pitching use and have a pitching coach open to the data available and some modern views of how pitchers should be deployed.” The Nationals have praised their new manager, Dave Martinez, as a progressive thinker willing to embrace analytics and are turning — if not pivoting entirely — toward using statistics more than they have in the past.
Still, that turn toward numbers is all relative, and the other hires announced Thursday reflect the Nationals’ emphasis on baseball experience. In Bogar, the Nationals get a former Mariners bench coach, Red Sox first base coach and Joe Maddon assistant during the Rays’ 2008 run to the World Series — a period during which Martinez served as bench coach. In Lilliquist, they get a former major league pitcher who coached in the Cardinals organization since 2002, and in the majors since 2011 — the Cardinals’ World Series season.
Bogar served as the Mariners bench coach for the last two seasons and was once the interim manager for the Texas Rangers. He’s worked in the Angels’ front office and spent four seasons on the Red Sox coaching staff, including one at first base. He coached with Martinez for Tampa Bay in 2008 and managed for five seasons in the minor leagues.
While hiring hitting coach Kevin Long and third base coach Bobby Henley seemed to be organizational decisions, Lilliquist and Bogar are choices made more with Martinez’s comfort in mind, according to a person familiar with the decisions. While General Manager Mike Rizzo has history with Henley, familiarity with Long and a long-standing relationship with new bench coach Hale, he is less familiar with Lilliquist and Bogar, whom Martinez knows better.
Dillon is a beloved hitting coach in the Nationals organization from his days with Class AAA Syracuse. Those days ended after 2015 season, when he joined the Marlins organization as their hitting coordinator for the past two seasons. But he will now assist Long, sliding back into the organization with which he has his longest coaching history, and one in which many players have credited him with key swing fixes over the years.
The Nationals have one spot left to fill — bullpen coach, which had been occupied by Dan Firova for the last two seasons. As things stand, Martinez’s staff includes hitting and pitching coaches with substantial playoff experience, a former manager, a one-time interim manager and longtime assistant, and two Nationals staples. Martinez has never managed before, but he will be surrounded by experience.
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