In choosing to let go several members of a staff that helped him win a World Series, Davey Martinez suggested he preferred to bring in coaches with whom he already had well-established relationships.
Sure enough, Martinez’s first hire of the offseason is someone he already knows very well: Jim Hickey.
The Nationals named Hickey their new pitching coach today, hiring the 58-year-old who spent seven seasons working on the same Rays staff with Martinez last decade.
“I am very excited to add Jim to our coaching staff and organization as a whole,” Martinez said in a statement released by the club. “He’s led a lot of really good pitching staffs over the years and has been a part of many successful clubs along the way. He’s helped countless pitchers improve, achieve their full potential and become All-Stars. Jim and I worked together in the past, and I am really looking forward to working with him again.”
Hickey, who has been a big league pitching coach for 15 seasons with the Astros, Rays and Cubs, replaces the popular Paul Menhart, who ascended from the Nats’ minor league pitching coordinator to the big league position in May 2019 and earned praise for his work helping the organization win its first World Series but was let go after a disappointing 2020 season.
Martinez, who just agreed to his own multi-year extension in September, seems to be using the leverage he now has with job security to make his own coaching staff decisions after having most of his original staff hired for him when he took over as a rookie manager in 2018.
The Nationals are still seeking at least a new hitting coach to replace Kevin Long and a new third base coach to replace Chip Hale. The statuses of the rest of the staff members, whose contracts are due to expire Oct. 31, haven’t been formally announced by the club, though bench coach Tim Bogar and bullpen coach Henry Blanco are close with Martinez.
Trust and experience between a manager and his coaches is vital, Hickey said during a Zoom call with reporters, which makes his prior experience with Martinez significant.
“That is one of the big advantages to having a relationship with somebody,” he said. “In my biased opinion, I think the most important aspect of the game is the management of the bullpen. You have to have that close relationship, and you have to be able to be on the same page and have the same thoughts, even a couple of innings in advance.”
Hickey has compiled plenty of experience during his 37 years in professional baseball, getting his start over a long stretch of 16 seasons as a minor league coach with the Astros. Promoted to major league pitching coach in 2004, he spent three seasons in Houston, including the club’s 2005 National League pennant.
Hickey then went to Tampa Bay and served on Joe Maddon’s staff, which included Martinez as bench coach, and went to the 2008 World Series. When Maddon and Martinez departed for the Cubs in 2015, Hickey remained with the Rays and coached three more seasons. He rejoined Maddon in Chicago in 2018, then resigned for personal reasons shortly after the manager was let go.
Hickey spent the last two years as a special assistant for player development with the Dodgers, a role he said allowed him to see how that organization works in unison from the minor leagues to the major leagues. But the opportunity to become a big league pitching coach again, especially this situation, was too good to pass up.
“I absolutely, positively missed it,” he said. “I almost immediately missed it. So this is what I would have chosen, to finish out my career as a major league coach. Or at least to have a chance to do that, versus being in the player development thing, although that was extremely gratifying. But I absolutely missed it, and I’m glad to be back.”
Hickey said he first spoke to Martinez about this job opening about 10 days ago. He’ll now begin to reach out to members of the Nationals pitching staff, watch video of their performances, perhaps meet with some in person near their offseason homes and begin to develop a plan for each heading into spring training.
Hickey has plenty of experience coaching big-name pitchers. He had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt in Houston, David Price in Tampa Bay and Jon Lester in Chicago. Now he takes over a Nats rotation featuring some of the biggest current arms in the sport: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
“The talent. It’s really, really top-heavy when you look at that rotation,” Hickey said. “I know this past season, things didn’t go quite as planned. But when you look at that rotation - and if you can get those guys to being back healthy and back to where they were just a calendar year ago - that’s really, really exciting. I started to do a lot of homework as this was becoming a possibility and digging into some of the numbers. There’s so much there in terms of upside, absolutely, positively. That’s really exciting.”