The Washington Nationals announced their 2024 Major League coaching staff today, and the biggest surprise was the coaches who were retained. Both pitching coach Jim Hickey, and hitting coach Darnell Coles had their contracts extended after the Nats posted a 5.02 team ERA placing them only in front of the Rockies in the NL, and the team was last in offensive home runs in the NL. While some optimists could look at areas where the team was good in pitching and hitting, and use a team in a rebuild as an excuse for the deficiencies — then why were other coaches not retained? In actuality, there needed to be changes in the coaching staff, and maybe there were reasons to keep Hickey and Coles. The addition of Miguel Cairo at bench coach is a move that will add a wealth of experience to the coaching staff from both the development and coaching side.
Here are the 2024 coaches on Dave Martinez‘s staff:
· Bench Coach — Miguel Cairo
· Hitting Coach — Darnell Coles
· Pitching Coach — Jim Hickey
· First Base Coach — Gerardo Parra
· Third Base Coach — Ricky Gutierrez
· Catching and Strategy Coach — Henry Blanco
· Bullpen Coach — Ricky Bones
· Assistant Hitting Coach — Chris Johnson
Offensively, the hope for a team so starved for hitting homers would be to strategize on alternatives to scoring more runs like the aggressive Arizona Diamondbacks. They only hit 15 more home runs than the Nats did this year, however they scored runs in the top-half of the Majors in 2023 due to a high OBP and baserunning strategy — and that aggressive style got them into the World Series. That works if you have team speed and athleticism and can get on-base. Well, the Nationals were 10th in MLB in hits which is the great news — but unfortunately the bad news is that the Nats were the third worst team in taking their walks — and that had Washington ranked 22nd in OBP and 21st in runs scored. Just figure out how to score 58 more runs which is basically ⅓ more run a game which equates to scoring one more run every three games to be at a playoff level offense.
The pitching was so bad for this team in 2023 that the improved defense was not enough to propel them into the tough half of teams. Most of the problem is the theory of garbage in is garbage out and that is metaphorically the Nats pitching staff. Okay, it isn’t all trash. But this team is so starved for a top of the rotation pitcher to seed the rotation properly to which you remove some 6.00 ERA pitching — and hopefully if you get a 3.50 ERA pitcher you can inch back closer to getting to a 4.00 average for your entire pitching staff. This team literally has to save 160 runs off of their 2023 ERA to get to playoff contention.
With Coles and Hickey coming back, what can they do to help improve as the teachers and strategic minds for this team? It has to start with better players and taking each returning player this offseason and working on what they can improve on. This was a theme we heard from Martinez that they did extensive exit interviews with the returning players and will have ongoing progress reports on how the players are doing.
Meet Miguel Cairo who is new to the staff. He debuted as an infielder in 1996 and finished his career in 2012. He was actually a teammate with Martinez in 1998-1999 and both were in the Opening Day lineup together in 1998. Last year Cairo was the New York Mets’ Minor League infield coordinator, and prior to that role, he spent the previous two seasons (2021–22) as the bench coach for the Chicago White Sox. When Tony Larussa took a medical leave-of-absence, Cairo stepped in as the acting manager and went 18–16 (.529) for the final 34 games of the 2022 season. From 2018–20, Cairo worked as the Minor League infield coordinator for the New York Yankees. Also, Cairo served as a special assistant to the general manager for the Cincinnati Reds until 2017. With his front office, player development, bench coach, and managerial experience, he looks to be a strong add to this coaching staff.
All true Nats fans know the “Baby Shark” aka Gerardo Parra. He joined Washington’s front office in May 2022 after a 12-year Major League career that concluded in 2021 as a member of the Nationals. He takes over as the first base coach which was a problem for the Nats who were second worst in the Majors at getting runners thrown out at second base. Some would say first base coaches don’t send runners to second base, but they certainly need to yell to stop a runner from going. Three times in one homestand this season, Keibert Ruiz was thrown out trying to stretch singles into doubles. He led the team in getting thrown out at second base. That is a coaching issue. One theory is Ruiz played too much at catcher in April and May and his legs fatigued too quickly. What he is working on already is speed and agility.
Ricky Gutierrez was with the Nats this past season as the team’s run prevention coordinator. He joined the organization in 2022 as a special assistant in Washington’s international scouting department after five seasons in the Reds organization. He was actually a minor league manager in Double-A Chattanooga, and had a 12-year MLB career as a player ending in 2004 that started as a first-round draft pick.
Also returning in his same role is Henry Blanco as catching and strategy coach. In this role, Blanco is charged with working with Nationals catchers while also providing strategic input in all aspects of game planning. He joined the Nats’ organization in 2018 as the bullpen coach. He has been with Davey Martinez for 10 years now.
Ricky Bones returns in his third season as the Nats’ bullpen coach. Prior to that he spent 10 season as the bullpen coach for the New York Mets after serving as a pitching coach in their Minor League system from 2006–11. As an MLB player, he was an All-Star pitcher in 1994 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers pitching to a 3.43 that season, and back then, that was really good.
Another new face to the team is former infielder Chris Johnson as assistant hitting coach which was the same position he just had with the Chicago White Sox. Prior to that he was the hitting coach for Triple-A Charlotte, his first professional coaching job. Johnson had an eight-year MLB career with spending most of his time in the NL East with the Braves and Marlins. His final home run of his rookie season was off of Drew Storen, and hit also homered off of Ross Detwiler.
That is the coaching staff, and as far as more detailed roles as to who takes the lead for the infield and outfield and baserunning coaching responsibilities — we will wait for some more guidance on that since there is certainly a few ways that can go. If we had to guess, Parra will be the outfielder’s and Gutierrez the infielder’s coach. Not even sure I could guess on who takes on the role of baserunning coach, but let’s hope it was Cairo who was a good baserunner when he played. Usually the bench coach doesn’t take on additional jobs like that so we will wait and see.