Ever since their slow start to the season in April, Washington Nationals fans have been calling for changes to the coaching staff. As error-prone as manager Davey Martinez has been – especially with his handling of the bullpen – third base coach Bob Henley has been even worse.
Henley, the slightly chubby and always sun-screened presence along the third base line, has been with the team since 2014. In those five years, he has worked under Matt Williams, Dusty Baker, and now Davey Martinez; making him one of the few constants the players and fans recognize in the dugout.
However, Henley’s tendency to be aggressive has yielded more failures than successes. Just in the past few weeks, several players have all been tagged out at home plate when they were sent by Henley. Some of the plays were close, but others, especially Matt Adams on July 28 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, were not. It’s good to see that Henley has faith in his runners and wants to challenge opposing outfielders, but he’s just throwing away base runners and outs at this point.
In the bottom of the second inning, Adams had reached base after getting hit by a pitch on the foot. He looked to be in pain, but stayed in the game and limped his way around the bases. A few batters later, Brian Dozier doubled to left field and Adams rounded third base. He was grimacing in pain and not moving quickly at all. The Dodgers had a quick relay going and the ball was almost back to the infield by the time Adams hit third. Trea Turner might not have even made it home safely on that play, but for some reason Henley sent Adams, who was then thrown out by at least five steps.
Later that day, Henley said that he does not take injuries into account when sending runners and he assumes everyone is always at full strength. Excuse me sir, but what sense does that make? Adams is by no means the fastest runner on the team – and he was in pain. That play, and every other one, needed to be treated on an individual basis. For example, he should have held Adams at third and maybe could have sent a well-rested Turner on a similar play, but would have had to evaluate the situation carefully.
The one time recently where Henley acted conservatively with a runner at third, he caused an injury. On Aug. 11 against the New York Mets, Juan Soto was running from first base on a double from newly acquired infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, when Henley gave Soto a stop sign at third base. However, Soto was pretty much at third base when the sign went up, so it took him a few steps to slow down. He was running down the third base line when he tried to stop, and fell awkwardly on his ankle, spraining it, and leaving the game early. Based on video replays, Soto would have been thrown out at the plate had he continued running, but given Henley’s tendency to send players home, it makes sense that Soto assumed he would be asked to continue running. When coaches change things at the last minute, it confuses players and can lead to injuries. Fortunately for the Nats, Soto didn’t suffer a worse injury.
C’mon Mike Rizzo and Lerner family, it’s time for a coaching staff that understands individual players, as well as individual situations, and treats them differently to maximize each player’s potential and the overall outcome of each game. The season will be over before we know it, but now might be a good time to start scouting out the next new coaching hires.