- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

VIERA, Fla. — There are details, and these details matter to Mike Maddux. Things like follow-through are important. As is timeliness. Maddux wants precision, “We’re professional pitch makers,” he said, and he wants it in all things.

So, when large-boned prospect Lucas Giolito started his first bullpen session of spring training, Maddux told him to be concerned with how many pitches he can make, not throw. When Giolito was done, he swigged some water from a Gatorade cup, then did some chatting with Washington Nationals staffers. Maddux had questions, plus suggestions.

“Is your group on time?”

“Yes.”

Maddux saw the other throwers from Giolito’s group already trotting to the next field for pitchers’ fielding practice.



“Now, you’re last because you were jaw-jacking. If you’re going to lead, you’ve got to lead from the front.”

Off went Giolito.

The Nationals‘ new pitching coach is part of a staff makeover following the firing of manager Matt Williams. Maddux was himself fired at the end of last season by the Texas Rangers after he spent seven years helping pitchers counter the baseball’s ability to soar out of Arlington. The Rangers’ pitching staffs were 13th and 14th, respectively, in American League team ERA the last two seasons. Previously, they were fourth twice, fifth once and never lower than eighth — a more-than-legitimate effort considering the ballpark.

Maddux replaces Steve McCatty, the well-liked pitching coach who had worked so long with so many on the Nationals‘ staff. He was in Washington for the same length of time Maddux was in Texas. Separate purges have them in new positions. Maddux walked into a staff with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top. McCatty is now the pitching coach for the Single-A Lake County Captains, a Cleveland Indians affiliate.

Being new, Maddux began to work his way down the masthead. He tried to get to know the front office folks before moving to field staff, then those involved with pitching. He talked with new manager Dusty Baker — once it was concluded that Baker would be the new manager. They had talked in the past about possibly working together. That was more whimsical chatter. This was a functional discussion after that idea became reality.

Maddux had not seen much of the Nationals‘ pitchers before joining the team. Scherzer had faced the Rangers and Maddux when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Everyone else? Not so much.

“Saw [Jonathan Papelbon] throw one inning all these years,” Maddux said. “Some guys you’ve seen throw, most of them not.”

Until this season, Strasburg had one pitching coach in the major leagues. He thought the change would be odd, but also welcomed it. Scherzer has been with three major-league teams, so he’s been through alterations before. When the relationship between Scherzer and the pitching coach is right, here’s what is happening:

“It’s being able to give the on-the-fly adjustments,” Scherzer said. “There’s different things where I mechanically typically breakdown. That’s where I need my pitching coach to be my eyes and ears to make sure I’m hitting all my checkpoints.

“But, really the other role is being able to bounce ideas off him of how to attack guys. Everybody knows everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s how my stuff lines up against different hitters and different ideas that can allow you to have more and more success. It’s hard to give you the true inner workings of it without really spilling the beans.”

Maddux, 54, relied on his 15-year major-league pitching journey when putting together a spring training plan. He was once young and eager. He was also older and hanging on. When constructing a camp model, he thinks about those days and what he would have wanted. He settled on efficiency over duration, a concept that has been echoed by Baker.

“Try to condense the work on the field, so that when you show up, you’re doing something,” Maddux said. “There’s not a lot of standing around. So, we come in, we put our nose in the dirt and we work hard and get it done. We’re done in an hour, 1:15. I think you get more out of a player when it’s short and sweet versus trying to see how long we can keep them out here and see how stiff they can get.”

Maddux has a lot of sorting to do. He’ll need to talk with Scherzer and Strasburg, plus the rest of the rotation. The Nationals‘ bullpen has been so overhauled it would look new to even McCatty, if he was retained. Washington invited two relievers to camp after it began after adding three in the offseason. There are arm angles to understand, beliefs to build.

“I think spring training is where a lot of it starts,” Maddux said. “Seeing your personality. Your approachability. Knowing you’re in their foxhole. We’re all in the same foxhole together. I think trust is something you have to earn.”

He’s working on it daily in Florida.

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