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After latest playoff flop, Nats must decide Baker's future

Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer talks to pitching coach Mike Maddux (center) as manager Dusty Baker (left) listens during Game 5 of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs on Oct. 12. (AP Photo)

In the same week they augmented their major-league coaching staff with two additions that have strong reputations around the organization, the Cardinals landed a seasoned pitching coach who is highly regarded for his manner, his wisdom, and his sneaky wit throughout baseball.

The Cardinals agreed to a multi-year deal with Mike Maddux to bring a new voice to the team’s pitching strategy and confirmed his hiring Thursday. The Cardinals also announced that Bryan Eversgerd would move from Class AAA Memphis’ pitching coach to the Cardinals’ bullpen coach position. Just days after the Cardinals brought back Jose Oquendo as third-base coach and added former MVP Willie McGee as a new coach, the club completed Mike Matheny’s coaching staff for the 2018 season.

Maddux represents a departure from the Cardinals, who have cloistered around continuity and in-house candidates for almost all of their coaching positions during Matheny’s tenure. John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations, referred to the hiring as “exciting” and in tune with the modern step the team wants to take. Several former Cardinals offered unsolicited raves about Maddux. The 56-year-old Maddux is arguably the team’s most prominent hire from outside the organization since Mark McGwire joined Tony La Russa’s staff as hitting coach, and even McGwire had previously played in St. Louis.

Yet, it continues this offseason’s theme.

The refreshed and rethought look to the dugout will outfit Matheny with established coaches who also embrace baseball’s advancing metrics. Maddux has 15 years as a pitching coach, and combined with McGee and Oquendo the trio has 77 years of major-league experience as either coaches or players. With Eversgerd, the four new coaches have 4,007 major-league games of experience, including the playoffs.

“I’ve worked with a lot of pitching coaches, and he is as good as any of them,” said former Cardinals catcher Gary Bennett, who was with Maddux in Milwaukee in 2004. “What I mean by that is his demeanor, his ability to communicate – he could tell the guys who needed to be kicked in the tail and the guys that he needed to put an arm around. From a pitching standpoint, you never felt more prepared. He has the ability to relate to any part of the spectrum – from pitchers with egos to pitchers who need teaching.

“And he’s pretty damn smart.”

Maddux, the older brother of Hall of Fame pitcher and 355-win starter Greg, became available this past week during a whirlwind of coaching moves that enveloped baseball. Within a few days, the Washington Nationals announced that manager Dusty Baker would not return and his staff’s contracts would not be renewed. That made Maddux, after a two-year stint with the Nats, a free agent. The Cubs also dismissed longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio, and entered the chase for pitching coach Jim Hickey, who had been set free by Tampa Bay. The Cubs finalized a deal with Hickey on Thursday evening, reuniting him with manager Joe Maddon. The musical chairs continued as Detroit hired Bosio and Cleveland added Carl Willis on Thursday evening. Boston, Kansas City and Minnesota are still in the market for for pitching coaches.

The Cardinals contacted Bosio this past weekend and interviewed Hickey, according to sources. The team also acknowledged that its pool of candidates shifted in the past week or so. Maddux would have been part of that shift.

“He’s got a lot of energy, and he’s got a really good feel for what a pitching staff needs and how to relate to a pitcher,” said former Cardinals reliever Randy Choate, who worked with Maddux briefly in Milwaukee and also on an All-Star team that toured Japan. “He’s a really good fit for the Cardinals organization. He brings with him everything that fits there.”

After a 15-year pitching career that included stints with Philadelphia, Montreal, the Dodgers, six other teams and nine appearances – with a home run hit – at Busch Stadium II, Maddux moved from playing to coaching. Up from the minors, he joined the Brewers’ coaching staff for 2003 and was there through 2008, nurturing along Ben Sheets and welcoming CC Sabathia. He went to Texas in 2009, where he shepherded a revival of their pitching success and two consecutive appearances in the World Series, losing in 2011 to the Cardinals with a staff that included Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson, and Matt Harrison. Maddux helped the Rangers’ tame the dimensions of their home ballpark in Arlington, Texas, and took a staff that had the sixth-worst ERA from 2004 to 2008 to one that had the ninth-best ERA in 2011 and ranked in the middle third through Maddux’s time.

He remained with the Rangers after a change in managers, but when he had a chance to test free agency as a coach after the 2015 season he signed a two-year deal with the Nats.

There, on Baker’s new staff, Maddux worked with Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and, this year, a rickety, ad-hoc bullpen that needed repeated infusions of talent on the way to an NL East title. Led by Scherzer, the Nats’ rotation has been top four each season, but the bullpen ERA spiraled from first in 2016 to 21st this past season.

Within descriptions of Maddux’s approach – from his early arrival at the ballpark to his extensive use of analytics for scouting – is the framework of what the Cardinals want from a different look in his role. The Cardinals want a coordinator as well as coach. A Washington Post article described how Maddux’s scouting reports give a detailed look at how a pitcher can cut into a hitter’s weakness with that pitcher’s strengths, and they can also be cutting. The story described how Baker knew a pitching meeting was happening from the laughter.

“A wicked sense of humor,” Bennett agreed.

Eversgerd, 48, has served the Cardinals as a pitching coach at every full-season level of the minors. He’ll reunite with several of the pitchers he helped develop and then deploy for Memphis’ championship this past season. The roles for Eversgerd and Maddux were opened when the Cardinals elected not to renew the contracts for pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley.

During the World Series, teams are asked to keep their news and their comments to a minimum and yield the stage to the championship. The Cardinals had limited quotes on the hiring and Maddux was not available. A formal introduction is expected later.

MOLINA: GOLDEN FINALIST

A year after his run of eight consecutive Gold Glove Awards ended, Yadier Molina is back as a top-three finisher for the honor given the best defensive player at each position in either league. Molina, Cincinnati’s Tucker Barnhart, and last year’s winner, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, are the two leading vote-getters for the National League Gold Glove at catcher, St. Louis-based Rawlings announced Thursday.

Molina was the only Cardinals player to receive enough votes to rank in the top three at his position, based upon balloting done my managers and coaches in the league. Only two catchers have more Gold Glove awards than Molina’s eight and both – Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench – are in the Hall of Fame.

The winners will be announced Nov. 7.