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Nats make the safe, sensible choice in Black

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Nats make the safe, sensible choice in Black

The Nationals' planned hiring of Harry Ralston Black as their next manager isn't going to cause people to leap out of their seats in jubilation.

The 58-year-old everyone has always known simply as "Bud" isn't the kind of guy who brings a commanding presence to every room he enters. He's not going to march into the Nats' clubhouse and instantly change the culture.

Casual baseball fans probably don't know a whole lot about the guy, whose 15-year career as a big-league pitcher was about as average as they get: a 121-116 record and 3.84 ERA with five different franchises. And his managerial record during 8 1/2 years in San Diego was rather uninspiring: 649 wins, 713 losses, zero postseason berths.

What exactly, you may be asking, made Black the clear-cut choice to take over a Nationals franchise that once again will enter next season with the loftiest of expectations, hoping this time to actually live up to the billing?

The answer boils down to two words: Experience and reputation.

After watching the Matt Williams Era end in embarrassing fashion, both on the field and behind the scenes, general manager Mike Rizzo knew his next manager needed a track record. Williams was a complete unknown, having barely managed in the minors and having only spent a few years on the Diamondbacks' big-league coaching staff before coming to Washington to lead a World Series contender.

Black, on the other hand, is a completely known entity. He has decades of experience, including nine seasons as Mike Scioscia's pitching coach in Anaheim before moving to San Diego in 2007 for his first managerial gig. He has been a position of authority in a major-league dugout the last 18 years. He has seen every scenario that arises. He's not going to be overwhelmed by any aspect of the job.

Experience, of course, doesn't count for everything. If it did, Dusty Baker (who managed the Giants, Cubs and Reds for a total of 20 seasons) would've been given this job in a heartbeat instead of losing out to a member of his pitching staff in San Francisco from two decades ago.

That's where Black's reputation catapulted him to the top of the pile. He is universally respected around the game. Padres players were crushed by his firing last June, recognizing their skipper was an undeserving fall guy for their failures on the field. People throughout baseball — players, coaches, executives, media — all agreed Black would get another managerial job in short order.

Here's evidence of the way Black is viewed in the sport: Despite owning a career .477 winning percentage and only two winning seasons in nine tries, he received NL Manager of the Year votes on five separate occasions, winning the award in 2010.

Consensus opinion on Black is clear. He is universally regarded as a good manager who never really had a chance to win big with a San Diego franchise that spent little on payroll and underwent several front-office shakeups over the years.

If Black proves a success in D.C., he certainly wouldn't be the first manager to make good after years of mediocrity or worse.

Bobby Cox didn't reach the postseason once in his first eight years as a big-league manager. He then got there 17 times in his final 22 seasons.

Joe Torre reached October just once in 14 seasons managing the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. Then he did it 14 times in 15 years with the Yankees, winning four World Series titles.

Terry Francona was a bust over four seasons in Philadelphia. Then he went to Boston and won two World Series in four years.

And then there are the two skippers currently squaring off in this World Series. Terry Collins managed 10 big-league seasons without a single trip to the postseason. Now he's in the Fall Classic. And Ned Yost, viewed as a failure during his first 10 managerial seasons, has now been to the World Series two straight years and at this moment owns the best winning percentage (.714) of anyone in history who has managed at least 20 postseason games.

None of that, of course, guarantees Black will win big in Washington. But if he does, it won't come as a shock to those who have followed recent baseball history and who have followed his own career.

This was by no means a bold decision by Rizzo and the Lerner family. They didn't take a chance on a longtime bench coach like Ron Wotus or a baseball icon like Cal Ripken or a proven winner like Dusty Baker.

No, the Nationals made the safe choice in selecting Bud Black to be their next manager. After everything dramatic this franchise has been through in the last year, maybe it was time to do something safe for a change.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer and Mike Rizzo met at the upper corner of the dugout railing Friday around 2 p.m. Scherzer, coming in from a bullpen session, leaned against the padded bar. Rizzo did most of the talking, at times using both hands and gesturing toward different parts of the field.

Scherzer walked into the dugout following the five-minute conversation with Rizzo. Turns out, everyone has questions and is searching for answers during this failing Nationals season.

Not long after the general manager and his Hall-of-Fame-bound starter finished their conversation, manager Davey Martinez came up the dugout steps to watch Anibal Sanchez throw a simulated game. Martinez’s emergence confirmed he was still in charge Friday. Rizzo’s words two hours later further entrenched that idea -- for now.

“We're not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said when asked his confidence level with Martinez as manager. “We've got a lot of season left. Davey's not happy with what's going on, nobody's happy with what's going on, the fanbase, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We've got to play better baseball.”

In a planned group session with reporters, Rizzo harped on a trio of points: One was the stage of the season, a second was the need to play cleaner baseball, the third centered on his hunt for bullpen help.

To the first, it’s a semantics dance. Washington, 19-31 coming into Friday following stomach-churning losses to a Mets team in disarray when the Nationals arrived at Citi Field last Sunday, are 30.9 percent into the season. Forty games is historically used as a marker for determining a team’s capabilities. The Nationals are beyond that point and in a deep corner. It’s no longer early because of the broad hole the Nationals have dug.

To the second, the call for cleaner baseball began last offseason. That it’s still being made May 24 is perhaps the most explanatory aspect of how the Nationals find themselves just 1.5 games in front of the trying-to-lose Marlins. Despite persistent harping on the concept, near-daily gaffes continue on the field. The Nationals often do early work, have extra meetings and try to drill down specific points. But, the attempts are betrayed time and again during the actual games, whether it’s baserunning, fielding or math-countering pitch selection.

To the last, Rizzo said he is in pursuit of bullpen fixes from any location: trade, waiver wire, wherever. He also expects those on the roster to perform better. This idea is akin to the demand for cleaner baseball, if with a shorter shelf life. The bullpen roared into the bottom of the league the second day of the season when it allowed seven runs across the eighth and ninth innings. It’s been atrocious since. Of the five relievers used that day, all five remain in the organization. Only Trevor Rosenthal is not on the active 25-man roster.

The three pillars of Rizzo’s discussion -- the calendar, bad baseball and tragic bullpen -- have conspired to put Martinez’s future at risk. He was more stern and explanatory in Friday’s pregame press conference before his boss delivered a proportional backing. Rizzo did not explicitly say Martinez will remain manager. He also did not say he would not. Instead, the generalist approach reigned.

“Well certainly you have to have a plan in place for all contingencies,” Rizzo said. “And like I said, we're fairly spoiled here. We've had winning records, we've been in first place for a lot of the last seven years. There's only three teams in all of baseball, I think, that have played .500 baseball over the last seven years. So we're certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we're at in the standings, and we always have a one-, three-, and five-year plan in our minds, and that'll continue.”

The question is how many of those years will include Martinez if this one continues on the same path.

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