Is Jim Hickey the Answer to the Nationals’ Pitching Coach Dilemma?

Jim Hickey (left) and Dave Martinez (right) during their time as understudies to Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay. (Photo: Nationals Communications)

If it seems like every year or two, the Nationals are looking for a new pitching coach, that’s because they are. They blow through managers too, but the search for a pitching coach seems equally – if not more – tiresome.

The Rise and Fall of the Nats’ Staff

Steve McCatty handled Washington’s pitchers for seven years (2009-15). The staff’s ERA dropped from 5.00 when he took over to 3.33 (second-best in baseball) in 2012, improving every year during that span. The unit checked in at a remarkable 3.03 in 2014, and never registered an ERA above 3.62 or worse than eighth in the majors in McCatty’s final five seasons.

The team as a whole spiraled under Matt Williams during 2015, and the contracts of most of the staff – including McCatty – weren’t renewed during that offseason.

The Nats let him get away, not knowing the misfortune and disfunction that could strike a pitching staff that based on talent alone was dominant.

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Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 31–Sept. 6

Brock Holt slides home, adding to what was his most successful week in over a year. (Photo: John Amis/AP Photo)

It was a tale of two series for the Nationals this week. They were swept in four games by the Phillies, but took two out of four from the Braves to end the week. They had a losing streak extend all the way to seven games, but they finished the week winning two of their last three.

Rather than going game-by-game, let’s discuss trends this week.

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Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 25–30

Trea Turner continued a torrent stretch at the plate, solidifying himself as one of the league’s top shortstops. (Photo: Turner’s Instagram account)

The Nationals once again had a slightly abbreviated week. The prior “week” extended into Monday, since the Marlins series was atypically long, and Thursday’s tilt with the Red Sox was postponed – as were most games across the league out of respect towards racial injustice.

The Nats lost their first two games against the Phillies before the postponed match, then dropped two out of three from the Red Sox at Fenway Park, falling further from shouting distance of the other National League playoff contenders.

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Washington Nationals Series Review: Aug. 21–24

With extra innings needed from the bullpen, Wander Suero reminded Dave Martinez why he trusted the right-hander in 2019. (Photo: MASNSports.com).

After two days off earlier in the week, the Nationals returned to face the Marlins at home for five games. Washington lost the first game and split Saturday’s doubleheader, then continued to trade wins and losses in the next two games. The result: a 3-2 series loss and a missed opportunity to make up significant ground in the – albeit early – playoff race.

Here’s a recap of the series, as well as a preview of this week’s schedule.

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Washington Nationals Midweek Review: Aug. 17–20

20-year-old Luis Garcia had a historic week, including a three-hit Tuesday with a home run. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Normally this is a weekly installment, but Washington has a couple off-days now before having a loaded schedule in the coming weeks.

The Nationals kicked off a three-game series in Atlanta on Monday. They fell just short in the opener (7-6), but rebounded to win the following night (8-5). Erick Fedde was set to start the rubber match on Wednesday, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather. The Nationals, who could’ve benefited tremendously by taking two out of three from the Braves, had to settle for a two-game split.

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Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 10–16

Juan Soto continued to showcase why he is one of the best hitters in the league. (Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

It was a wild week for the Nationals, in more ways than one. They played seven full games, plus the continuation of Sunday’s suspended game against the Orioles. They were in a hole at the resumption of that matchup and fell 6-2, but went 4-3 otherwise, splitting four contests against the Mets and taking two out of three – other than the suspended game – from Baltimore.

The biggest news from the week may have nothing to do with the standings, though. Sam Freeman, Sean Doolittle, Starlin Castro and Stephen Strasburg were each placed on the IL, paving the way for Seth Romero, Dakota Bacus and Luis Garcia to make their big league debuts.

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Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 3–9

It wasn’t a great week for Sean Doolittle, and he and Dave Martinez had to face some harsh criticism. (Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

At this time a week ago, the Nationals were 3-4 in the midst of a four-day break; Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg and Wander Suero were approaching their returns; and with five games against the Mets and Orioles on deck, things appeared to be looking up.

It didn’t exactly play out that way.

Washington avoided the top starting pitchers – Jacob deGrom, Alex Cobb, and John Means – yet they only went 1-3 (not including Sunday’s suspended game, in which they trail 5-2), getting outscored 27-11. Most of the lineup stopped hitting, the starting pitchers were fine but far from dominant, and the bullpen imploded on multiple occasions. Worst of all, the team was met by 19-31 level panic from reporters and the fanbase.

The biggest topic of criticism will be revisited shortly, but let’s take a look at player performance first.

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Washington Nationals Week in Review: July 27–Aug. 2

Starlin Castro ended his tumultuous week with a four-hit game on Thursday. (Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

It was a bizarre week across major league baseball, and the Nationals were as affected by it as almost anyone. They were scheduled to play seven games – two at home vs. the Blue Jays, two in Toronto (which later became Buffalo), and three in Miami vs. the Marlins. Instead, they played four straight home games against the Blue Jays and sat at home for the rest of the week due to COVID-19 concerns.

Without delving into the weeds of the disease, it’s safe to say that the Nationals were fortunate to only be affected by it as minimally as they were. Nonetheless, they’re three games behind where they would’ve otherwise been if the Marlins were healthy enough to play.

In terms of on-field play, the Nationals split the four-game series with Toronto, losing the two “home games” (4-1 and 5-1) before rallying to win both “road games” (4-0 and 6-4), bringing them back within one game of .500 (3-4), just like they were when Week 1 ended.

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Washington Nationals Week in Review: July 23–26

Victor Robles was the star of the weekend for the Nationals, including a three-hit, four-RBI game on Saturday. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

We started the “Week in Review” series last season, and we’ve decided to carry it into 2020.

This week was a short one for the Nationals in terms of on-field action, but there’s also plenty that’s happened surrounding the team recently that merits discussion.

The Nationals dropped two out of three games from the Yankees in their opening series of the season. The first loss (4-1) came in a five-plus inning, rain-shortened Game One. Washington rebounded to take the next game (9-2), but lost the finale (3-2) to fall back below .500 to start the year.

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