Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Seeing The Light

Its seems a few folks are scratching their heads over Our Washington Nationals retaining Pitching Coach, Randy St.Claire, for the 2007 season, before hiring their new Manager. Some believing that the Manager should have the sole right to choose the staff of his own liking and experience.

To me, this is a great sign for Washington. Management, wanting to build a professional image, is rewarding a valued foot soldier. The Nationals want to win with pitching. And, to win with pitching, you need someone to teach the youngsters how to pitch, not just throw. Why let walk, your best teacher?

Randy St.Claire is a terrific pitching coach. He has stewarded the Expos/Nats Pitching Staff through some thin times, since 2002, with excellent results. As I have stated previously, he can remain our pitching coach until he no longer wants the job. This man is a tireless worker. Before each and every Nats Home Game at RFK Stadium, well before the night's starting pitcher goes to warmup, I see St.Claire working with other pitchers down the right field line and in the teams bullpen.

On September 4, the Labor Day Monday Game with the St.Louis Cardinals--The African Queen and I were fortunate enough to have Diamond Club Access. As we sat, on the stools looking over the right field fence, there was St.Claire, with the entire New Orleans Zephyrs (The Nationals) Bullpen, all grouped around St.Claire--enthralled, listening to each and every word, as Randy was teaching them techniques and mechanics.

Ryan Wagner, Chris Schroeder, Saul Rivera, Brett Campbell, Chris Booker, Billy Traber, Jason Bergmann the injured Micah Bowie, and Harrisburg's Beltran Perez were all surrounding Randy. One at a time, each would go to the practice mound, St.Claire watching closely, adjusting the technique. This went on for the entire last 15 minutes of Nats batting practice and continuing during the Cardinals batting practice--obviously starting well before the gates to RFK opened for fans.

"The Wookie", Jon Rauch and "The Chief" Chad Cordero, we've seen working with Randy individually in the bullpen and right field during practice. St.Claire never raising his voice--calm, patient, instructing and teaching something he notices wrong in a pitchers repitoire. And, I love that white towel he always has laying over his right shoulder!! Look at Cordero, early in the season--HE WAS TERRIBLE!!, and how terrific Chad was during the second half. The difference between night and day. The Chief learning a new pitch, a change up--to go with his slider and fastball. That's coaching.

On the bench, during games, St.Claire always has this concerned parent look, and although I am sure he repeatedly told Frank Robinson his pitchers did not have it on certain days, Frank always seemed to wait too long to take a struggling pitcher out--well after the game appears to be lost.

Between games, Randy St.Claire, according to many published reports, views hours and hours of videotape of his pitchers, looking for ANYTHING to help those pitchers improve. Ryan Wagner flatout gives Randy total credit for straightening him out, after, his unsuccessful stint in Cincinnati.

John Patterson thinks the world of him. Hector Carrasco owes St.Claire a "Finders Fee" for teaching this journeyman a change up in 2005--reviving his floundering career and receiving $6 million from the Los Angeles Angels (Of Anaheim--for you perfectionists).

When the 2006 Nats got into a tremendous pitching shortage problem, early, the boys from New Orleans were recalled. They stunk, couldn't get hardly anyone out. But, over the summer, those same New Orleans boys started putting 2 and 2 together, more consistently getting the outs, instead of failing-confidence rising. Toward the end of September, it was safe to say the Nats Bullpen, far from the best in the league, had improved dramatically. That's coaching, and its all Randy St.Claire.

Many would place the terrible 2006 pitching woes on the pitching coach, as a scapegoat. Not me. Injuries, then inexperience, and finally, not enough starting talent killed the Nats in 2006. None of that is Randy St.Claire's problems or fault. Injuries happen and it's Management's responsibility to supply the horses.

If I could choose one coach from the Nationals during their first two seasons in Washington, starting my own staff--Randy St.Claire would be my NUMBER 1 Choice. No one else would be close. Very happy he will be back. For the first time after a long, sometimes difficult, 2006 season of Nats baseball, I am starting to see a flicker of light at the end of that tunnel.

Randy St.Claire is providing that first light.


SenatorNat said...

Excellent two blogs SBF - how do you keep this meaningful provocative stuff running. Please quit your day job and become Nationals publicist - Bert Hawkins, was it not, for all those old and new Senators?

Kasten has done several things that would have been unpredictable, in that they are not splashy, whatsoever. First and foremost, he decided to keep BowBow and dispatch Frank - opposite of young Danny Boy - who, you will recall, fired Casserly and kept Norv!!

Two, he has decided to support BowBow's desire to keep Randy St. Claire, and apparently is not going to impose a managerial decision on BowBow, either. In other words, Kasten is building a mature pyramid, and when he selects a GM - he treats the GM as the man in charge of hiring and firing managers and suggesting and making major personnel moves.

BowBow, if he is a person prone to loyalty, must be in the process of becoming a dedicated Kasten man - and he should be, if my instincts are correct, since everything Kasten has done since taking the reins has rewarded BowBow for his risk-taking and creativity, and not holding him accountable for the pitching cuppord being totally bare. In turn, BowBow seems keen on rewarding St. Claire for making the very best of a desparate situation.

All this breeds identification and loyalty up and down the chain of command - just as the new overall scout from Arizona seems able to build his part of the management pyramid out without meddling or second-guessing (rather, support and resource dedication) from Big Stan.

Translates, too, into a fresh start for Girardi, who should not have to look over his shoulder for admonishing from GM and President when he gets tough with laconic players.

Very different culture from the Prince Georges Red----s: Danny could never abide a GM, and that is the whole rub with the Groundhogs Day movie, which is his team. (No GM hurts St. Joe, of course, as this was never his forte.)

The Nationals may suffer from time to time with owners whose pursestrings are a bit tight, and MLB sure gave the team on a silver platter to the more laconic (used the word twice in one sports blog - a rare occurrence!) ownership group, but two things are a positive from it: 1. imposition of Stan the Man as condition of their getting the team; and 2. tighter finances make team work with development of younger HEALTHIER players overall - no quick fixes which backfire, like the PG Red----s! Recall the Hogs - no names, all, drafted and gotten young and cheap...

Let's Go Joe! - Girardi that is!! All Good.

SenatorNat said...

"cuppord" is actually spelled "cupboard" - but if I don't maintain my reputation as the Arizona Cardinals of spelling - then folks will begin to think that Mrs. Kasten is ghost-writing my blog - clever, eh?