As much as the Nationals roster has undergone massive changes in the last two weeks, let’s not forget what happened to manager Davey Martinez’s coaching staff as well.
Just one day before the frenzied 36-hour stretch that saw eight veteran players traded away for 12 prospects, the Nats learned five of their big league coaches, plus four other staff members, had tested positive for COVID-19.
With pitching coach Jim Hickey, bench coach Tim Bogar, first base coach Randy Knorr, third base coach Bob Henley and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler immediately forced to go into quarantine at their Philadelphia hotel, the Nationals were left to scramble to find replacements in time for Thursday’s doubleheader against the Phillies.
They wound up summoning several of their minor league coaches, while also shifting some of their big league staffers around to accommodate the losses.
Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach Sam Narron was bumped up to big league pitching coach. Minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator Gary Thurman became first base coach. Bullpen coach Henry Blanco shifted to third base coach, with bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez taking over as bullpen coach, along with Triple-A Rochester pitching coach Michael Tejera also helping out. Brian Daubach, Rochester’s hitting coach, also joined the big league staff as assistant hitting coach.
As for bench coach? Well, nobody officially replaced Bogar. Instead, it has been a pair of injured veteran players (first Kyle Schwarber, then Jordy Mercer) assuming something of an unofficial role alongside Martinez in the dugout during games.
At a time of massive change and upheaval for the organization, the jumbled-together coaching staff only complicated matters more.
At last, though, the entire staff has been cleared to return to work full-time. Having satisfied the CDC’s COVID-19 protocols, all five coaches were set to rejoin the club Monday in New York and are scheduled to be back in uniform for tonight’s series opener against the Mets.
In addition to the nine coaches and staff members, four Nationals players also tested positive in the span of two days at the end of last month. Trea Turner was first to learn of his diagnosis and was pulled from the July 28 game in Philadelphia in the first inning. One day later, Daniel Hudson, Austin Voth and Alex Avila also learned they tested positive.
Turner, who of course was traded to the Dodgers, was first to be cleared and made his L.A. debut Friday night. Hudson, who was traded to the Padres, also has been cleared but is still building his arm back up before taking the mound in a game for his new team.
Voth and Avila, meanwhile, have now been cleared, but neither is ready to play yet.
Voth is reporting to the Nationals’ spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., to start up a throwing program and ultimately pitch in some minor league games before he’s activated.
“Austin needs to get going again and start throwing,” Martinez said over the weekend during one of his Zoom sessions with reporters. “He hasn’t really done much due to the COVID protocols. So we’ll get him going and try to get him back here as soon as possible.”
Avila is still recovering from the pair of calf strains that landed him on the 10-day IL way back at the start of July, the byproduct of an emergency start at second base after the Nationals suffered a flurry of injuries to their infielders. Until the veteran catcher is fully healed from those leg injuries, he won’t be returning to action.
“He hasn’t run or anything,” Martinez said. “And he still has that calf injury. So we want to get him back here and we’re going to test him and see where he’s at, and hopefully try to get him to where he can start running here soon.”