Rizzo griped about bullpen's readiness even before firing pitching coach

Ben Krimmel
May 03, 2019 - 1:14 pm
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says the bullpen was not prepared at the start of the season.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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The Washington Nationals won their 13th game of the season on Thursday night, but the much-needed 2-1 victory was quickly overshadowed.

No, not by Stephen Strasburg's 1,500th career strikeout, but by the firing of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.

This was not an unexpected move. The Nationals pitching staff has struggled to a 4.82 ERA – the third worst in baseball – as the team has sputtered to a 13-17 start.

A day before the firing, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo dropped a hint at the cause of his dissatisfaction with the pitching staff during his regular appearance with The Sports Junkies. When asked by Eric Bickel if it was too early to judge the Nats for their slow start, Rizzo's response was quite revealing.

"You know who you are when you have your full complement of players amassed and in the lineup and performing at the same time," Rizzo said Wednesday. "We came out of the spring training with our full complement of players, no injuries. Our bullpen struggled, they weren't prepared coming out of spring training to hit the ground running at the onset of the season."

The bullpen has been a particular thorn in the Nationals' and manager Dave Martinez's side. They are the worst in the majors with a 5.87 ERA over 89 innings and a batting average against of .269.

After the firing, The Washington Post columnist Barry Svrulga reported "in the eyes of two insiders" Lilliquist was "not a particularly hard worker." This could be seen as being a players coach, Svrulga notes, but with the team struggling, "seemed lazy."

He also reported: "In some corners of the Nationals’ operation, it was surprising (Lilliquist) was brought back for 2019."

After announcing Lilliquist's dismissal, Rizzo echoed his comments about preparation in his comments

"We thought that there was preparation issues there, and we thought that we wanted to get a new message and a new voice," Rizzo said after Thursday's game. "We felt really good about Paul's delivery, the way he feels about this organization, and his knowledge – both personally, and professionally and mechanically – of almost each and every one of our pitchers at the big leagues."

While it was too late for Lilliquist, Rizzo added the bullpen has "finally gotten their rhythm and their sea legs." 

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