WASHINGTON -- The Nationals parted ways with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist following Thursday night’s 2-1 victory over the Cardinals, general manager Mike Rizzo announced, citing preparation issues and the need to insert a new voice into the clubhouse. Paul Menhart, who has been with the organization since 2006 and is
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals parted ways with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist following Thursday night’s 2-1 victory over the Cardinals, general manager Mike Rizzo announced, citing preparation issues and the need to insert a new voice into the clubhouse. Paul Menhart, who has been with the organization since 2006 and is the current Minor League pitching coordinator, has been named his replacement.
The Nationals finished Thursday with a 4.82 ERA as a team, inflated by their struggling bullpen’s 5.87 ERA, the second highest in the Majors. Nats starters are also underachieving as a whole, carrying a 4.30 ERA, not the results they expected after investing so heavily in their pitching staff. And with the team off to a 13-17 record overall, the Nats made a rare in-season coaching change.
“At this point, we wanted a new voice, a new face,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Someone to relay the message a different way.”
This is the first time the Nationals have changed coaches in the middle of a season since July 2013, when they fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein and replaced him with Rick Schu.
With Menhart, they believe they are getting a pitching coach with a more “hands-on, analytical approach” and the benefit of someone who has been with the organization for 14 seasons. While Washington insisted Thursday night that the move had more to do with the additions Menhart brings than Lilliquist, these are similar reasons why Lilliquist was dismissed by the Cardinals at the end of the 2017 season.
After the Nationals found themselves unable to re-sign Mike Maddux that winter, they hired Lilliquist anyway to serve as Martinez’s pitching coach. Then, they made the decision to retain him along with the entire coaching staff this winter. And now just 30 games into the season, they decided a change was necessary.
“We didn't make this move in a day or weeks,” Rizzo said. “This was something that Davey and myself have been keeping our finger on the pulse of.”
Rizzo delivered the news to Lilliquist after the game Thursday, and Martinez addressed the team before it departed for the start of a 10-game road trip starting Friday in Philadelphia.
“I was a little bit surprised by the timing of it to be honest, because it kind of felt like we had pointed the ship in the right direction,” closer Sean Doolittle said, moments after hearing the news himself. “It's the really unfortunate part of this business, and it's a reminder that this can happen to any one of us at any given time, so I don't know, to be honest, I'm still a little bit surprised.”
Lilliquist had been with the Cardinals’ organization since 2002, serving as the pitching coach in the Minors until ’10, before becoming the bullpen coach in ’11 and pitching coach from 2012-17.
Menhart will join the big league team in Philadelphia on Friday after progressing through the Minor League system. He has been a pitching coach at several stops in the Minors – Single-A from 2006-11, Double-A from 2012-13, Triple-A in ’14 -- before becoming the Minor League pitching coordinator in 2015, his current role before this promotion.
The Nationals like that nearly every pitcher the organization has developed has had some interaction with Menhart, and they are hopeful that experience will pay off.
“It's a fresh face, fresh voice, a guy that's known our pitchers longer than I've known our pitchers,” Martinez said. “He's a guy who's had them for a very long time in the Minor Leagues. Here's a guy that did everything in our Minor League system, coached everywhere, Minor League coordinator, knows mechanics really well. At this particular time, as we're getting younger, I think he's a good fit.”
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.