- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2016

OXON HILL, Md. — Bud Black was on the outskirts of Washington on Monday, a place some thought he would be 13 months ago.

In late October of 2015, erroneous reports that Black was hired to be the Washington Nationals’ next manager began to surface. The Nationals did not comment on the reports, which trickled out during the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. Some reporters attributed the team’s silence to the news being delivered during the World Series. The league frowns upon announcements that distract from the postseason’s final event.

But, the reason the Nationals did not confirm those reports was because Black in fact had not been hired. Six days later, the team hired Dusty Baker to replace Matt Williams. When asked about the reports, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo took a swing the day Baker was introduced.

“That was wrong, wasn’t it?” Rizzo said at the time.

That didn’t mean the hiring process was a smooth one. Baker readily admitted he thought he would not be the next manager in Washington. It was strange and refreshing to hear such candor.

If Baker thought he was out, did Black ever think he was in?

“When I went through the initial interview process… you never really know how things are going to play out,” Black said Monday. “Even towards the end there when it was speculated, you still don’t know until it happens. That’s sort of how it is. When I look back, you never really know until it’s final.”

Black, hired a month ago to manage the Colorado Rockies after working last season as a special assistant to the general manager in Anaheim, was reticent to comment any further.

“What I learned in this game — this goes back to being a player, you never know until something is final,” Black said. “That’s probably the best way to put it.”

Black takes over a Rockies team still enveloped by the ever-present issues at one-sided Coors Field, where so many can hit but not pitch effectively. Colorado was 75-87 last season. It led the Nationals League in runs. It was 13th in the NL in ERA. Black, who pitched in the major leagues for 15 seasons and grunted when he threw his changeup in order to trick hitters into thinking it was a fastball, will try to apply his vast pitching experience to a troublesome pitching environment.

“The true pitching fundamentals, if you don’t adhere to those, they are exposed more in Colorado,” Black said. “First-pitch strikes, staying ahead in the count, avoiding walks, don’t beat yourself, do what you have to do as a pitcher in all phases to be successful. Because mistakes, whether they are not fielding your position, not controlling the running game, pitching behind in the count, a bad walk, all those things come up, will bite you more. Because one swing from a number of players in the lineup can get you.

“So if you minimize those over the course of 750 innings of, basically, a home season, a home regular season, you should have success. And you have to have the pitchers from a talent standpoint to be able to do that, and that’s where I think that we’re getting to.”

When the Nationals travel to Colorado on April 24 next season, the two finalists for the Nationals job will have a chance catch up. Any visit will also be the continuation of a long friendship. When Black was a 36-year-old lefty at the end of his career, he played for Baker, then a rookie manager in San Francisco in 1993.

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