Mike Schmidt wants to help Domonic Brown

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Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown is coming off of an abysmal 2014 performance in which he finished with a .235/.285/.349 slash line. Not exactly the kind of follow-up to his All-Star 2013 output the Phillies were expecting. With Marlon Byrd gone, Brown is moving across the outfield back to right field, and he’ll be fighting for a starting role with the Phillies for the foreseeable future.

Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt is hoping to work with Brown over the course of the spring in an effort to help him live up to his potential and perhaps even win the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. Via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki:

“I know his history. I watched a great majority of his at-bats last year. I hope to get him to open up a bit in talking and trusting [me]. I’m not going to try to impart any mechanical things that I did as a right-handed power hitter. I searched for the ball with my hands. Domonic is more of a rotational, sit-on-the-back-leg guy. The core makes the swing happen.

Domonic needs to be challenged to get back to where he was. But at the same time, not told he’s bad or regressing. Search for positives. I wouldn’t call it starting over. [I would tell him] ‘Get this in your mind: I’m going to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, starting now.'”

Though Schmidt insists it was just coincidence, Brown hit a home run in mid-June last season only minutes after having flagged down Schmidt for advice. Schmidt told Brown to use his top hand more. Brown then tagged Cubs starter Edwin Jackson for a lead-extending three-run home run. It would seem that if anyone could get the most out of Brown, it’s Schmidt.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.