Washington D.C. – pregame 3
Q. Mike, yesterday you gave a lot of thought to — or you talked about the lineup and spoke a lot about loyalty. Can you walk us through then the decision to make a change today and what (Jose) Martinez brings to the lineup?
MIKE SHILDT: Josey has just had good at-bats, putting good swings on the baseball. Just looking to mix it up a bit, nothing too crazy, obviously. But Josey’s earned the opportunity to get in there and create some length in the lineup and in a spot where guys are in doing their part front of him and he can do some damage.
Q. Mike, what was the decision for (Matt) Carpenter to be the one that goes out?
MIKE SHILDT: Strasburg is not an overly splitty guy. He’s actually got a tinge towards reverse split, so a combination of things. But really, I had a conversation with Carp. He was great. He knows he’s done a great job for us off the bench in September, and he’s got some big hits for us in our run here, as well. He’s a team first guy. Just the opportunity for Josey to get in there made some sense and bring Carpenter, have him available off the bench for a double switch or pinch-hit.
Q. This is a arguably a cheesy question, but I might be able to get a good quote out of it. When you wake up on the mornings of Jack Flaherty’s starts, do you have a moment that hits you and you go Jack’s going tonight?
MIKE SHILDT: That’s a good question. I actually feel that way about all of our guys. I’m optimistic. We’re here for a reason. It’s been a collaborative effort. You look up, you’re down two, it’s not the best place to be, and you’re like, okay, we’ve got Jack going. All right. So it’s good to have that guy that is your — has been the guy that’s been the best pitcher in baseball in the second half. That’s really inarguable. It’s good to know he’s toeing the rubber for you tonight.
Q. Along those lines, for those of us who haven’t seen Flaherty’s second half, what has he done well, and how has he developed? What has made him the best pitcher in baseball during that time?
MIKE SHILDT: He’s just put everything together. There’s nothing that magically appeared. For 23, it’s pretty special. Me and Commish were talking about it yesterday, how many aces there were at that age. He probably had more perspective on that than I would, quite honestly, but the thing about Jack, he has all these amazing skill sets, first of all. I said this before the season started, and it rings true.
First of all, he’s physically gifted. He’s got a great build for it. He’s got a tremendous delivery that he works really consciously on, and then he’s got plus pitches. He’s got command of his fastball. He’s got a really, really good slider. His other pitches have developed as well with his curveball and his change-up. He’s got a tremendous desire to be elite and sincere about it in every aspect, whether it be his working out or whether it be his in-between start routine, the growing understanding of how to game plan for opposing hitters.
Then there’s the experience that comes with actually pitching in games, seeing what that looks like and getting a feel and when to back off and when to push and how to handle different situations and how to channel that competitive spirit that Jack clearly has.
I also appreciate the fact that Jack — and I love this about people in general — because it accelerates your curve. People talk about experience, and one of the reasons we have a 23-year-old guy in Jack Flaherty that’s an ace and the best pitcher in baseball in the second half is the fact that he’s developed and learned from his own experience, and he’s also been conscious about other experiences — Bob Gibson, Chris Carpenter, Waino, et cetera, and really, it’s helped him evolve. You put all that together, and sometimes it starts to kind of click in, and for Jack it has.
I’m not surprised, but very grateful.
Q. Mike, is there anything you could put your finger on on why the offense has had its ups and downs this season?
MIKE SHILDT: Yeah, that’s a great question, Pedro. It’s really — it really is. We’ve worked to be more consistent. I feel comfortable and confident that we have been. And you look at inconsistency, you look at how long those last. April was a very dominant month for us offensively, which allowed us to have the best record in baseball, you know, March, April. Then May was — I could call it maddening May. It just wasn’t — our offense wasn’t consistent in May for a long period of time, and then June came — I won’t go through the whole calendar for you. So don’t worry about it. (Laughter).
But the point I’m getting at is the inconsistencies became less frequent and not as long, which actually gives you and me optimism to say that now we are more consistent, which allowed us to be able to be in the position we are and to be one of the best second half teams in baseball and put us in this position.
So while we have been inconsistent in a total look at it, the consistency has actually increased, and that — those adjustments have been quicker, and that understanding has been a little more quicker. Some of it’s team conceptual, and some of it’s individual approach, and that could be mental or physical.
So the identification is there. The clarity is there. I think in the case of the last couple games, the pitching has had as much to do with that as anything else. I do feel like we’ve got more clarity on what that looks like individually and collectively and being able to be quicker to adjust to that. And the reality is most every team is going to deal with the ebb and flow of that. It’s the hardest thing to do in baseball and probably the hardest thing to do in sports. But that’s a good question.
Q. Mike, with the choice to put Jose today in the lineup, the corollary that comes with that is often the question about defense. Was there any consideration about maybe getting Harrison in there as well to kind of balance that, or do you need the offense?
MIKE SHILDT: Yeah, this is the question, and I kind of knew it was coming. When I look at lineups, I look at them holistically, and one of the things we’ve done really well is we play really, really good defense. That’s a big pillar of what we do and how we got here. That’s probably one of the reasons — I don’t know if — what the right, appropriate term for how I respond to all the lineup questions because they are driven offensively, and then you make a change, and rightfully so, people say now what are you going to do defensively? I’d love to have it all, you know?
And typically, I, we make the lineup, but we do it internally. I make that determination based on how everything else is going, but you can’t — and usually I err on the side of pitching and defense, and we’ll figure out a way. We talked about how we compete in a lot of different areas, how we’re able to win games, which we’ve demonstrated as well as anybody, I feel like, and then just looked up after a couple games. Again, tip your hat to the pitching, but we have to give up something at this point.
Josey is very capable of playing in the outfield. It’s not like he’s not, but clearly, we’re going to go with a little more offense today and look to get the lead, manage the game. As far as getting Harrison out there, we have regulars for a reason, and Harrison’s been a regular, but you’re looking for offense. So I understand the question, but we’ll play. We’ll get the lead, and we’ll adjust from there.
Q. With Hudson pitching tomorrow, he led the league in walks, but did you find that recently he’s had better command, and do you find that process will be even better next year, the second year he’ll be a starter?
MIKE SHILDT: I do. I’m glad you brought that up because I was looking at that actually recently. He has improved as the season has gone, especially against the lefties. So his numbers are improving. Much more optimistic, and, again, not surprising. Kind of alluding to a little bit of a similar answer to the Jack question. It’s evolution. You’ve got a very conscientious, talented guy that can figure things out, and experience usually lends itself to that for guys that have that ilk. So he has improved, and very excited about that. I do think it wins for him being able to continue to move forward, only going to get better.
Q. As a followup on Jack, was there any specific start in the second half when you realized this was a different pitcher than the first half? Part two, as a young guy, you’ve had no issues pushing him past 100 pitches. Do you feel like he’s getting stronger down the stretch here?
MIKE SHILDT: I do. So to the first question, I didn’t say — it clicked for Jack. Not that his first half wasn’t — didn’t have some success. Clearly, he’s had some success. But the San Francisco game the day before the All-Star break was magnificent, and you just saw in him, at least I did, just — and I use the term, and I use it a lot since then. Now it’s more normalized for him, just being in control. Just to control everything he was doing, all aspects of pitching. So that was probably the watershed moment for me that I thought he built on.
Then as far as the pitch count goes, pitch counts are really interesting. We know we use 100 as the barometer now. I don’t know when it came into vogue, but it has. I will say this. A couple things that have allowed us to put Jack in this position. First of all, Jack. Jack is, like a lot of our guys, very, very conscientious about how he takes care of himself, how he recovers. Also, I call him Mad Dog for this rightfully. Like Max, our pitching coach — who had a couple of hole-in-ones today, by the way. Hit two hole-in-ones in the same round. A 1 in 67 million chance and only three times on the PGA TOUR. He had two today.
MIKE SHILDT: Army-Navy course.
Q. Did you witness it yourself?
MIKE SHILDT: I did not. Mo did. Mo witnessed it.
Q. (No microphone)?
MIKE SHILDT: No, this was an actual — I figured I’d segue it in.
Q. (No microphone)? The lineup?
MIKE SHILDT: How do you know he didn’t, Frank? But he did. Anyway, Mad Dog’s done a great job outside of his sixth hole-in-one today, of making sure Spring Training looked well, spacing guys out, and did a nice job of appropriately skipping guys or giving the guys an extra day during the course of the season. We picked our spots where we would give Jack that extra day, but also, in competition, if we felt like — clearly, we want to win every game, but if we could take an inning off Jack here and there, we took it off him.
And you look at the pitch counts, and stress is a big important part of that. A lot of the conversations I’ve had with pitchers and pitching coaches and physical therapists and people like that for years is the stress level that is on pitchers, and Jack just hadn’t had a lot of stress. You talk to some guys, they throw 72 pitches in 3 2/3, and they throw 115, and they feel much better after the 115 with limited stress. If Jack was laboring any of those starts or struggling or coming out of his mechanics, then we would do something different. He hasn’t had a lot of stress, big, strong kid, and he’s in a good position to pitch.
Q. As you saw in Game 2 and you saw in the NLDS, the Nats have not hesitated to use their starters as relief pitchers. How does it affect your strategy knowing you might get a front line starter in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning rather than a third or fourth string reliever?
MIKE SHILDT: We’re always going to game plan for other team’s starters. So we know what we’re going to get. We’re not going to — I would certainly hope, and I’d be surprised — never say never, but we’re not going to get surprised, hopefully, by anything that comes at us out of the bullpen. So we’re aware that those gentlemen are available and ready to pitch. We’ve got an idea what we want to do and how we want to do it. So we just compete with who comes in.
Q. Mike, you guys have leaned on different guys at different times throughout the season. Jose set a pretty good example for the group as to when it’s not his time to start, being a good teammate. Curious what you have seen in him this season that has put him in this opportunity to get this chance, and also how he responded when you told him he was going to be in there today.
MIKE SHILDT: Josey is really indicative of our entire team. It’s a really greater good mentality. I appreciate and have conversations almost daily or consistently with our guys about, if something’s going to be out of the ordinary with their role, so they can hear from me and the explanation. Always welcome mostly the give-and-take and their retort to it. The guys all want to play, but they’re all respectful of being good teammates and being team-first kind of guys. Jose has been a great example of all of that. Multiple conversations, he understands; I’ll be ready.
People can tell you I’ll be ready, I’ll accept it, but he actually does. He does with a good attitude. He brings good energy. He gets the bench Mafia thing going and keeps those guys engaged. As far as him being in the lineup, he’s ready to go.
Q. Mike, what is it you’ve seen in Dexter’s at-bats of late that gives you continued confidence in him in that leadoff spot for you guys?
MIKE SHILDT: The walk to Strasburg, the bats in Atlanta in Game 5, the leadoff walk against Foltynewicz, tough at-bat, grounded out, that gives you confidence. Then comes up right-handed, hits a double down the line off Fried who had a nice series and does a nice job. Then there’s been a lot of deep counts with Dext. It’s not like he’s having one, two, three, and see you later. He’s having deeper counts, which usually speaks well, and he’s gotten some full count pitches that are tough. Stras the other day threw three or four different pitches with the four or five different counts. The full count is a tough recipe for hitting.
Then the walk, I believe, in the sixth, was a good indicator. And not to be out of school, but just a conversation with Dext. Like I have with guys like where are you? How are you feeling? And knowing that he’s going to shoot it straight, and he’s like I’m in a good spot. He came in yesterday, got good work in. Seeing the ball, my hands are in a good spot. You know, when you have guys that have played in this league for 11 years that you’ve had those conversations with that have also been us, like, man, I’m just not myself right now. All right. Let’s give you a day. Let’s get some work in, and then comes back.
When you have those conversation, you trust guys. This group’s been together since February, and it’s a very close group that’s very open with conversation, and like I say, very common goal oriented. When a guy’s having those kind of at-bats and feels like he’s in a good spot and has been a big catalyst for us to be where we’re at, it’s really a pretty easy decision.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports