The Nationals have a new pitching coach at high Single-A Fredericksburg for 2020, and he is a familiar face in the Carolina League.
Justin Lord, who spent seven seasons as a pitching coach in the Baltimore system, comes to the Fredericksburg and takes over for Sam Narron, who is now the pitching coach for Double-A Harrisburg. Lord most recently was the pitching coach at high Single-A Frederick.
“It’s really good. I’m excited about being with the Nats,” Lord said by telephone from his home in Augusta, Ga. “We had some good years with Baltimore and my time over here was great. I enjoyed the people I worked with. They decided to go in a different direction after 2019 and fortunately this opportunity opened up with Washington.”
All it took was a call from Nationals assistant general manager and vice president for player personnel Doug Harris to get the ball rolling.
“Doug was the first guy I spoke with (with) the Nationals and he’s the first guy that called me,” Lord said. “Spoke to (senior advisor) Spin Williams and (assistant general manager for player development) Mark Scialabba during the interview process and got to know them all during the course of the offseason. I felt like I fit right in. A lot of great guys. Guys on the same page working together. They have a family-type atmosphere in the clubhouse. Everybody gets along well and working to get these guys better.”
Lord was an all-state pitcher in high school and pitched collegiately at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College and then at Florida State under legendary coach Mike Martin. He made 96 outings in pro ball, starting 53 games. Having coached for the Keys, Lord went up against the Potomac Nationals for a long time, so he was already familiar with most of the pitchers the Nats have had in their system.
“A lot of these guys, I coached against for the last seven years,” Lord said. “Pretty much every league Baltimore had a minor league team, so did Washington. I got to see a lot of those guys come through the system, watch them play from the other dugout. Spin has been great, (pitching coordinator) Brad Holman has been awesome. We get along really well. I feel like I eased right in and going along with everything they’ve got going.”
Despite an abbreviated spring training, Lord, 40, was impressed with the Nationals setup at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and was able to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time.
“West Palm Beach was awesome,” Lord said. “One of the biggest things that you notice immediately is the difference in complexes from Baltimore to Washington when it comes to spring training. In Baltimore, the minor league and major league camps were separate, probably eight or 10 miles apart. The minor league camp was a smaller place.
“So the complex being new is really nice, top shelf, state-of-the-art, everything. That was really good. Just to be able to have all the access to technology, you have all that stuff in-house and you have plenty of space to do all that stuff. We have plenty of space to work with pitchers in the bullpen, on the side, practice fields. Anything you want, you got it. It’s all under one roof.”
Since leaving pro ball in 2009, Lord has made multiple coaching stops. In that time, he has developed a philosophy based on honing the mental side of the game for his pitchers.
“I’m a big proponent on the mental part of the game,” Lord said. “I have a background in sports psychology. Really just helping guys to prepare. Develop a routine that they can count on. Be able to prepare and develop a situational awareness to where one bad or negative event in a game doesn’t turn into three or four. You are able to reset and get focused back on the next pitch, which is always the most important. It’s about coaching these guys mentally probably more than it is physically at any level, really.”
In that mental side of the game, Lord works on getting his pitchers to focus on what is right in front of them without getting overwhelmed.
“The biggest thing with these guys is they’ve got to learn what it takes to win,” Lord said. “They’ve got to learn what it takes to succeed. But not only to succeed in the Carolina League - what is it going to take to succeed at the next level and the level beyond that? Every player I’ve ever coached, they find that they are tested at different levels. Each level is going to provide a new challenge. They are not going to be able to get away with as many mistakes possibly as they got away with at the previous level. A lot of performing in general is your response to situations.
“How do you react to adversity or success? And when you get tested, what do you do? It kind of gives you an opportunity to see what the heart of an individual is like. How much grit and how much fight does he have inside him? Talent is going to take you so far. Guys that are extremely talented are going to get a little further, but they are going to get tested at some point, too. A lot of times, these guys are getting a level where they are challenged in new ways. They are having to throw the ball in the zone a little bit more or mix up their stuff a little bit more. They can’t get away with that swing and miss breaking ball that they got away with in Auburn or Hagerstown.”