John McLaren made it memorable in his last day as Nationals interim manager yesterday afternoon.
He made several good moves when it came to using his pitchers late in the game, and it paid off in the end to help the Nationals preserved a 2-1 victory over the White Sox.
Not only will it be his last day as the interim manager, but he won’t be the team’s bench coach anymore. He decided not to return over the weekend in deference to the disgraced Jim Riggleman, who resigned Thursday after realizing the team did not want talk about his contract during the season.
No one has to like what McLaren did, but respect him for his loyalty to Riggleman, who hired him as a bench coach last year. It is rare coaches do that for baseball managers anymore. Coaches either want to stay on for the new manager or they want to take the managerial job.
It’s too bad MacLaren won’t be around. He would have been a valuable resource as a bench coach for Davey Johnson, who takes over as the new Nationals manager tonight.
A bench coach offers different ideas and strategies that managers can use, and McLaren was good at doing that for Riggleman, who relied on him when it came to gameday moves.
If there was one thing McLaren knew what to do as a bench coach, it was finding the right pitchers to face opposing hitters. He applied that as a manager yesterday.
With Livan Hernandez throwing 114 pitches after the sixth inning, McLaren wondered if his starter had it in him to pitch the seventh. There was no question he was pitching well, but with his high pitch count, he may not have been effective.
McLaren realized Hernandez was facing couple of anemic hitters in Juan Pierre and Omar Vizquel to start the seventh inning, so he decided to use his 36-year old starter to get both of them out in protecting a 2-1 lead.
That plan worked out well. Pierre flied out and Vizquel struck out. With the way Hernandez was working flawlessly in the seventh inning, he was called on to get Carlos Quentin out. It didn’t happen. Quentin hit the ball at the pitcher, but it wasn’t caught, so the runner was on base.
That was all McLaren wanted to see, so he picked the right time to use Tyler Clippard to get the final out.
Clippard got Paul Konerko to line out. It helped the wind pushed the ball back when it appeared it was going to be a home run by the White Sox slugger, which would have been a two-run blast.
When a plan like that works out, it makes a manager look like a genius.
It was the right move to make even if it didn’t work out. Hernandez was capable of getting Pierre and Vizquel out. Facing those two hitters helped Clippard to warm up, and when Konerko was at the plate, it made sense to get Hernandez out and throw the setup guy in.
McLaren made a bold move to insert Sean Burnett in the eighth inning. It was interesting. Clippard was suited for that inning, but the interim manager had other ideas.
Burnett had the first two outs by striking out the struggling Adam Dunn, who struck out four times yesterday afternoon and nine times this weekend, and getting Armando Rios out on a flyout.
It would have been easy for McLaren to take Burnett out and have Drew Storen for a four-out save. The interim manager was definitely thinking about it, but he decided to stick with his situational reliever.
Either McLaren was nuts or he had guts. It worked out. Burnett was able to get A.J. Pierzynski to ground out.
It’s interesting McLaren went with Burnett in that inning. After being used often in the seventh inning for the first two months of the season, he struggled, and Riggleman only used him for an out or two in the sixth inning.
Maybe McLaren had a good feeling on him or he felt the matchups were right for Burnett. McLaren has been known to be analytical when it comes to matchups as bench coach, so that might have been why Burnett was used.
McLaren tried to get a big inning from the offense in the seventh. With Wilson Ramos at third and Jerry Hairston Jr. at first, he inserted Ian Desmond in the game after not starting. He felt his starting shortstop could extend the lead to 3-1 by driving in an insurance run. It didn’t happen, but at least, the manager tried to make it happen.
There’s no question players win games, but sometimes, a manager can make a difference by making the right moves, especially when it comes to using relievers. McLaren had it right with those moves.
Even if he did not win the series against Chicago, he garnered respect for getting tossed on a bad call Friday night. Despite Mike Morse tagging Knoerko out, the umpire called safe, so Riggleman’s bench coach was arguing.
It would have been interesting how McLaren fared if he was the manager. He had managerial experience, but he did not do well in Seattle. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo did not think it was the move to make in light of the fiasco with Riggleman. He had to hire a manager that had a good resume, and he found one in Johnson.
Rizzo made the right choice. He could not sell McLaren or Bo Porter as the manager right now. Not when the team is trying to have a winning season.
If McLaren was named the manager for the rest of the season, there was no way he was resigning in honor of Riggleman. Unlike the former Nationals manager, he knows managing a team is a privilege. He had to take advantage of this opportunity.
It didn’t happen, and he didn’t feel comfortable being a bench coach anymore.
It’s too bad. Based on his work as interim manager and bench coach, this is a huge loss for the Nationals.