When Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo approached manager Davey Johnson and informed him the decision had been made to fire Rick Eckstein, Johnson stood up for his hitting coach.
Johnson told Rizzo that if he wanted to change up the coaching staff, perhaps firing the manager was the way to go.
Rizzo declined that offer, and instead made the decision to let Eckstein go and hire Rick Schu - a guy he worked with when both men were with the Diamondbacks - as the Nats’ new hitting coach.
“Davey and I have great respect for each other, and this was a general manager’s decision,” Rizzo said on the field at Nats Park a bit ago. “I respect Davey to the point where I run everything that we do by him, but there’s certain things that we may not agree on and this was one of them. I felt we needed a change and so I made the change.
“We’re not going to fire Davey Johnson, one of the best managers that ever managed. He’s a pro, Davey’s a pro, been through a lot of this stuff before, and we’re not worried about our manager. He’s one of the best in baseball and I trust him.”
Rizzo, like Johnson, has been a staunch supporter of Eckstein in the past, even when the Nationals have struggled mightily from an offensive standpoint. But with the reigning National League East champions now two games under .500 and averaging just 3.69 runs per game - second-worst in the majors - Rizzo felt a move was necessary.
“It’s a very difficult decision,” Rizzo said. “It’s a tough day here at Nats Park. This guy’s been with the family for six years, I’ve known him for a long time, he’s been my hitting coach since I’ve been a GM and a guy that I like, respect and think was a vital part of the development of this organization. It was a very difficult decision, a lot of thought went into it, but around this game we always say it’s a performance game and the offense wasn’t performing and I felt that it was time to get a new voice, a new dynamic, a new energy around (the team).
“Rick Schu I thought was the perfect guy at the perfect time. I’ve worked with him before, I was comfortable with him. He knows all the players, and he’s been a good hitting coach in the major leagues, knows all our young hitters, and knows a lot of the veteran guys and has a good feel for it.
“I’m still a big supporter of Rick (Eckstein). I echo what I said before: Rick Eckstein is a fine hitting coach, he’s a major league caliber hitting coach, and a lot of this falls on the players. This is a players’ league and the players are paid to perform and they haven’t, so it’s the voice of that and the guy who’s in charge of that, we felt we needed a different perspective and a different way of doing things.”
Schu has a very good relationship with Bryce Harper and has worked with a number of other current Nationals, as well, including Anthony Rendon, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy and Scott Hairston. It might take him some time to get to know the rest of the Nats’ players and their swings, but Rizzo feels that a new perspective on things, a new voice might be able to get things going in a positive direction.
“I think it can, and that’s what we’re hoping for,” Rizzo said. “Schuey’s got an approach a lot like Davey’s and Eck’s, so we’ll be going from the same playbook, if you will. Rick’s a guy who’s done it before at the major league level, he’s coached it before at the major league level, he knows our minor league players, what it’s taken for them to get to the big leagues, so I think his perspective, his energy, and his attitude in the clubhouse will be something that the players will embrace.
“I think the other aspects of our team have been solid, I just think that we need to upgrade and step up the offense. And if this sends a message to those guys in the clubhouse that are responsible for swinging the bat, then so be it. But this was to get a guy in there that’s going to give a message and say it a different way, and maybe the players will hear it a different way and we’ll start getting on a roll.”
Johnson and Eckstein preached an aggressive approach from an offensive perspective, and it doesn’t sound like Schu will be much different, from how Rizzo describes him.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of technical differences between the two,” Rizzo said. “Like I said, they’re all pulling from the same playbook. But I think when you’ve heard the message for five years in a row, maybe hearing it a different way has an effect.”