“At the time, he told me it was them wanting an older, more experienced guy, a major league-experience guy,” Menhart said during a phone conversation Tuesday. “And I sat back and thought about it: ‘Who in the world could be more experienced?’ That’s just human nature to say, ‘Well, who’s better than me?’
“But then I learned that’s really not the case. I liked finding out the following day when I spoke to [General Manager Mike Rizzo] that it was up to Davey to pick his own staff, and I completely understand.”
Menhart’s ouster following a disjointed, novel coronavirus-shortened, 60-game season in which the defending champions failed to make the playoffs has been the source of some speculation among Nationals fans. Menhart, 51, said he wanted to put an end to that.
“You hear all this stuff about, ‘You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors or in a clubhouse,’” Menhart said. “That’s not the case here. It’s more that Davey was offered a three-year extension, and he wasn’t given the opportunity three years ago to pick his own staff. So what I got from Mike Rizzo is that he wanted this time around the chance to pick more of his own coaches. And I totally get that. I initially wasn’t told that.
“That’s where it gets a little bit gray for me. I don’t think I was told the truth initially, and I thought I deserved the truth, and it upset me. I didn’t understand why. I don’t think I gave [Martinez] the chance to explain because I was in utter disbelief. I made him repeat it, and it was like, ‘Oh, my God, he really did say it.’ ”
The Nationals have not announced the length of Martinez’s contract, nor have they addressed any changes to Martinez’s staff. Rizzo did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday. The team issued a statement to The Washington Post from Martinez.
“Paul spent many years in the organization as a Minor League Pitching Coordinator and really helped us out in 2019 when we were in a tough spot,” Martinez said in the statement. “We appreciate his contributions and wish him nothing but the best!”
The Nationals head into the offseason looking for their third pitching coach since Martinez took over before the 2018 season. Veteran pitching coaches who have worked with Martinez in the past include Jim Hickey, who was with the Tampa Bay Rays under manager Joe Maddon when Martinez was the bench coach there, and Chris Bosio, who served as the pitching coach with the Chicago Cubs when Maddon and Martinez won the 2016 World Series there. Neither Hickey nor Bosio had a major league job in 2020. Bosio was fired by the Detroit Tigers in 2018 for using racist language toward a clubhouse attendant.
For his part, Menhart said he didn’t believe he was judged on the truncated 2020 season, in which the Nationals finished 26-34 — their first losing record since 2011 — and posted a 5.09 ERA, fifth worst in the majors. Rather, he reflected on the circumstances in which he got the job in the first place. When the Nationals fired pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in May 2019, they promoted Menhart, a longtime pitching coach in their system who had spent five years as the minor league pitching coordinator.
“I was hoping it would be a long-term job, but at the time it was an interim, temporary fix to come in and clean up and build a structure in a situation that was not good,” Menhart said. “Now, thinking back, I can see that I was hired for a reason, and it would have been silly to say, ‘Thank you,’ and move on after winning the World Series. But I was never Davey’s guy. And that’s not a knock on Davey. I completely get it.”
Given his experience and familiarity with the organization, there was some surprise that Menhart wasn’t retained by the organization in a different job.
“I looked at it a couple of ways,” Menhart said. “It would have been nice for them to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to try to keep you on in some capacity,’ maybe as a consultant or something. What Rizz did say, which I’m very appreciative of, and I don’t think he was just trying to get me off the phone: ‘I will do whatever I can for you if another opportunity comes up elsewhere.’ I would have been very hesitant to accept a position in the organization knowing that it would take at least three years to get back to the big leagues. …
“I’ve always been interested in helping guys get better. After getting a taste of the World Series, it’s kind of difficult saying I wouldn’t want to take a crack at that with somebody else. But it definitely wouldn’t be settling for anything if I went back to the minor leagues. I want a job. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I love.”
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