So in the span of four weeks, Martinez used it. The club parted ways with pitching coach Paul Menhart and third base coach Chip Hale. It allowed hitting coach Kevin Long to speak with other teams before bringing him back on a one-year contract. Then Martinez surrounded himself with familiar and trusted voices.
Washington hired Jim Hickey to replace Menhart as pitching coach. It promoted Randy Knorr, an organizational lifer, to coach first base and swung Bobby Henley back across the diamond to coach third. And when the whole group was announced Wednesday, in the opening hours of the offseason, it was clear Martinez prioritized long-held relationships.
Hickey and bench coach Tim Bogar crossed paths with Martinez with Tampa Bay. Martinez and bullpen coach Henry Blanco go way back. Knorr, most recently the manager of the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate, and Martinez both played for the Texas Rangers in 2000. Long and Henley return after helping the Nationals to a title in 2019. And Pat Roessler, the one addition before last season, comes back as assistant hitting coach and Long’s right-hand man.
As the newcomers, Hickey and Knorr show Martinez’s staff philosophy. It’s common for experienced managers to import coaches from previous stops, and Martinez earned the chance to do so — and a second contract — by leading the Nationals to their first World Series win. In early October, Menhart told The Washington Post that “I was never Davey’s guy.” Hale echoed a near-identical line to The Post about a week later. Any surprise was cooled by that logic alone.
“This is just an opportunity that very, very few managers get, to be frank with you,” Hale told The Post after he left the organization. “There are very few managers that get total control of decision-making on their staff.”
Enter Hickey and Knorr. Hickey, 59, spent 11 years as the Rays’ pitching coach. For one of those years, Martinez was a special instructor at spring training. For the next seven, Martinez was a bench coach for manager Joe Maddon, sharing a dugout and clubhouse with Hickey. Hickey also worked with Maddon as the Chicago Cubs’ pitching coach in 2018, giving him another season under Martinez’s mentor. Once Menhart was let go, Hickey was the obvious choice to fill his spot.
Adding Knorr, on the other hand, was less foreseeable. But he and Martinez played together for Texas when Knorr was a late-career catcher and Martinez a veteran outfielder. That partial season laid the foundation for a strong bond in Washington. They handled the trials of having a Class AAA team in Fresno, Calif. They spent spring trainings catching up. And Knorr, 51, has been with the Nationals since they moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005.
Knorr started off managing the Class A Savannah Sand Gnats. From there, he managed the Class A Potomac Nationals and Class AA Harrisburg Senators. He then had stints as the major league bullpen coach and bench coach, didn’t have his contract renewed once manager Matt Williams was fired, and came back as a senior adviser to General Manager Mike Rizzo, focusing on player development.
Next, Rizzo made Knorr the club’s Class AAA manager for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Then, when the 2020 minor league season was canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Knorr ran the Nationals’ alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va. The breadth of organizational experience has made Knorr respected throughout the organization. His knowledge of Washington’s young talent is another plus.
In all, this is what Martinez’s circle now looks like: a pitching coach, Hickey, he has seen in practice; a first base coach, Knorr, he can lean on for advice; a bullpen coach, Blanco, who is one of his closest friends; a bench coach, Bogar, whom he sees as a direct extension of himself; a third base coach, Henley, who has a similar history to Knorr’s; and two hitting coaches, Long and Roessler, who filled the same roles in three seasons together with the New York Mets.
This past season, the Nationals’ shot to defend their title amid a global pandemic ended with a 26-34 record. A staff remade in Martinez’s image should soon have a fresh roster to work with next year.
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