Nov 18, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo formally announced three more members of Dusty Baker’s coaching staff Wednesday, with Rick Schu returning as hitting coach, Jacque Jones hired as assistant hitting coach and Chris Speier hired to serve as either bench coach or third base coach.
Along with the previously announced hiring of pitching coach Mike Maddux and first base coach Davey Lopes, the Nationals have only two remaining openings on Baker’s staff: a bullpen coach and either a third base coach or bench coach.
For now, Schu is the lone holdover from Matt Williams’ 2015 staff. The 53-year-old former big-league infielder has been Nationals’ hitting coach since July 2013, when he replaced Rick Eckstein in midseason. A preacher of an aggressive hitting approach, particularly vs. fastballs, Schu has been popular with Nationals batters, who ranked third in the NL in runs scored this season despite fielding their entire healthy lineup only twice in 162 games.
“We think that Rick’s done an admirable job the last couple years,” Rizzo said. “He’s had a great rapport with some of our star players. He was highly recommended by the players to keep him. I’ve always appreciated what he’s done. With a lot of injuries that we’ve had over the last couple years, we’re still right up there with runs scored and a lot of offensive categories.”
The addition of Jones gives the Nationals an assistant hitting coach for the first time. The club’s seventh coach the last two seasons had been Mark Weidemaier, who handled defensive positioning and advanced scouting reports, but Speier will now handle those duties in his position, opening up a spot for a second hitting coach.
Rizzo said he felt like help was needed in that area, as many other MLB clubs have concluded in recent years.
“The hitting coach’s job is such a labor-intensive job,” Rizzo said. “The players are swinging more and more and more. Really the assistant hitting coach is the guy you rarely see, because he’s in the tunnel from the second inning til the end of the game preparing hitters to hit in the game.”
Jones, 40, only retired from a big-league playing career with the Twins, Cubs, Tigers and Marlins in 2008, making him close in age with plenty of current veterans. The former outfielder, who played for Baker in Chicago, had been serving as the Padres’ Class AAA hitting coach.
“We felt it was a good time to hire a really good, young-perspective coach in Jacque Jones,” Rizzo said. “He was a favorite of Dusty Baker. In talking to him, he’s a really high-energy guy.”
Speier, 65, is a longtime confidant of Baker, having served as his third base coach with the Cubs and then as his bench coach with the Reds. (He briefly took over as Cincinnati’s interim manager in 2012 after Baker suffered a mini-stroke.) The former big-league infielder will be in charge of the Nationals’ defensive placements in addition to the official title he winds up taking on the staff. That decision will depend on which other coaches are added in the next few weeks.
“Chris has been next to Dusty in the dugout before,” Rizzo said. “Chris also really likes being in the action at third base. Dusty’s going to decide where these guys fit best.”
Asked if there’s a chance any other members of the 2015 staff could still return, Rizzo said it was “a possibility.” Randy Knorr (senior assistant for player development), Bob Henley (senior advisor for player development) and Matt LeCroy (Class AA manager) have already accepted new positions within the organization, but it’s possible one or two could return on Baker’s big-league staff.
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