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Nationals bench coach Chip Hale not tipping his hand on Orioles rumors

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Nationals bench coach Chip Hale not tipping his hand on Orioles rumors

NATIONALS PARK -- Nationals bench coach Chip Hale was coy Sunday at Nationals Winterfest when asked about a report that he would be interviewing for the Baltimore Orioles open managerial job.

“Let’s just put it this way, there’s 30 jobs and if you get the opportunity, it’s a blessing, so, with all the turnover this year, I have not interviewed yet,” Hale said. “I have a great job here. If you get the opportunity to talk to somebody and meet some new people, it’d be a great opportunity. That’s all I’ll say on that.”

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Sunday that Hale would be one of several candidates to interview with new Orioles general manager Mike Elias.

Hale has an extensive coaching resume, which includes a two-year stint as the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2015-16. He came to Washington before the 2018 season to provide a veteran bench coach for rookie manager Davey Martinez. Hale has been a Triple-A manager, third base coach at the major league level and bench coach in Oakland in addition to his Washington and Arizona stops. He also played seven seasons in the major leagues. Hale has hoped to manage again since being fired by Arizona following a 148-176 record across two seasons.

“In the right situation, with the right people,” Hale said. “I’m blessed here with Davey [Martinez] and [Mike Rizzo] and ownership here, they’ve done really good by me. Those opportunities, like I said, are tough to come by and are exciting. So, we’ll see.”

Hale, 54, mentioned the 2018 season as an opportunity to delve further into things he might not have if he was a manager.

He began to look at more analytics such as spin rate as opposed to having a chunk of his daily time taken up by press conferences.

“I could study a little more and get caught up, so that was a cool thing,” Hale said.

The Orioles are beginning the process of wading out of a dismal situation. They finished 47-115 last season in the powerhouse American League East, home of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and always potent New York Yankees.

Elias was plucked from the Houston Astros’ front office to take over as general manager. Finding a new manager to replace Buck Showalter is among his long list of fixes in Baltimore.

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This is how the Nationals and Sean Doolittle got here, and this is where they go

This is how the Nationals and Sean Doolittle got here, and this is where they go

WASHINGTON -- The first taste of all this came in late April of last year. Sean Doolittle threw three games in a row for the first time in years, only two of which were save opportunities. 

“Guess the training wheels are off,” Doolittle joked then.

His blistering usage this season followed with another heavy April and May combination born of the team’s other faults. The club was sliding or injury-filled or both, playing tight games and acting desperate in the season’s early months in order to make the later ones matter. A turnaround was even more critical this season following last year’s stumble. Davey Martinez was brought to Washington with a mandate to reach the World Series. They didn’t even make the playoffs in year one.

Look at Doolittle’s year-over-year pattern: April and May of last year, 25 total appearances. April and May of this year, 23 total appearances. By the start of July in 2018, Doolittle was on the injured list. He made it until mid-August this season, leading the league in games finished, being used relentlessly by a manager who had no one to trust at the start, then didn’t turn to those he could once they arrived. Doolittle appeared in eight of the Nationals’ 14 games since the trade deadline passed, all while enduring a home run surge and talking publicly about fatigue.

So, why was he used so often?

“Doolittle's the closer,” Martinez said Sunday. “He's the closer of this team. We've said that before and this is based on conversations with Doo. If he's available, as we talked about, then he's going to pitch the ninth inning. He's always been in the game when he said he was available to pitch.” 

The conversation Sunday morning between Martinez and Doolittle was meant to figure out what’s next for the closer and team following Saturday’s harrowing appearance. Doolittle was pummeled that evening. His failing cost the team continuance of a win streak and a pertinent victory. He knew it. It stung.

So, the decision was to put him on the 10-day injured list because of right knee tendinitis. Martinez backed the news with a declaration: “Talked to him, talked to the medical staff. It came to a head when I talked to him that his right knee's bothering him. So, we want to get it right. So we put him on the IL. Hopefully, it won't take as long, he's back in 10 days and when he does come back, he's our closer. And I reiterated that to him. He's our closer, but we got to get him right.”

Doolittle found a mechanical tweak earlier in the season which made him his most potent. His body position was higher, his release point hidden longer and his drive down the mound maximized. Of late, his fatigue has undermined those priorities. Doolittle is rolling through the load period in his windup. His arm is trying to generate power his body typically would. The ball is exposed earlier. Simply, hitters can see a slower-moving ball sooner. 

While Doolittle rests and retools, Martinez will hunt for how to operate without him. Daniel Hudson (1.08 ERA, heavy usage since arriving) and Hunter Strickland (1.29 ERA) are the logical choices. Why they weren’t being used as such to save Doolittle appearances before is moot now. They’re in. He’s out.

Roenis Elias and Greg Holland are also part of the equation. Elias (hamstring) is heading toward a mound session, perhaps in the next few days. If he didn’t absent-mindedly swing Aug. 2, much could be different. He could handle the seventh, aligning Hudson and Strickland for later outs and saving Doolittle. Instead, he’s thrown ⅔ of an inning since being acquired July 31. 

Holland has thrown two scoreless innings for Harrisburg since being signed and stashed after his release by Arizona. The Nationals are confident they can again retool Holland the way they did last year in a striking turnaround which led to a 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances. If he’s league average at the end of the bullpen, it’s a boost.

Washington has a minimum of eight more games to decipher how the new alignment will be deployed. Max Scherzer’s “probable” return Thursday will force a move in the rotation. Erick Fedde or Joe Ross (most likely Fedde) could end up back in the bullpen or in the minors.

The Nationals are 5 ½ games out of first place in the National League East. They hold a 3 ½-game lead in the wild-card race. Only the juggernaut Dodgers have a better run differential following Sunday’s homer-laden win against Milwaukee. 

Which means there is room for a breath, a reset, a rebuild of their closer. The season is going to boil down to September. Without a top-tier Doolittle, it has a limited chance of finishing where they payroll and demands expect it to.

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Nationals tie club record with stunning home run barrage vs. Brewers

Nationals tie club record with stunning home run barrage vs. Brewers

Sunday's matinee against the Milwaukee Brewers did not disappoint for fans in attendance.

With eight total home runs on the afternoon, the Nationals tied the franchise record for most in a game.

The Nationals dissected the Brewers in the series finale and almost made history in another department.

With seven home runs mashed in the first five innings, the Nats were just one away from tying the all-time record of eight.  

Most of the Nationals are probably aware of this record because it was set just two years ago, by them, against the same team they beat today, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Matt Adams started off the festivities with a 438-foot bomb (1) to right-center in the top of the first.

Victor Robles followed that up with 429-footer (2) out to center before the first concluded.

In the third inning, Brian Dozier sent one out 381 feet (3) and then Anthony Rendon decided to match him with a 381-footer (4) of his own.

Juan Soto mashed his first homer of the day to close out the third with a 360-footer (5).

Adam Eaton decided to get in on the fun in the fifth inning after launching one out 415 feet (6) to center field before Soto decided to send another out in the fifth, just a little bit farther than his initial homer of the afternoon, with a 367-foot bomb (7).

Finally, at the bottom of the eighth, Dozier decided he wanted to have a multi-HR game too and sent one out 411 feet (8).

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