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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Interview Part 3: Paul Menhart, Locked In

Washington Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler on the mound in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS at Nationals Park. Paul Menhart, pitching coach at AA Harrisburg, works to get his pitchers to that mound. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: That Rabbit | Part 2: Came Back | Part 3: Locked In

In the bottom of the sixth of this Aug. 2, 1995 contest, Paul Menhart was in a jam, but it was a jam he knew he would get out of.

Having walked the bases loaded with one out, Menhart turned to his shortstop - the next one was coming to him, Menhart recalled recently. True to his word, the next ball did, turning into an inning-ending double play.

"That's how cocky and confident I was back then," Menhart told The Greatest 21 Days in August 2013, "and I try to teach these guys the same thing."

Menhart was talking about his pitchers at AA Harrisburg, where Menhart serves as pitching coach for 2013. The game he was talking about turned into a masterful eight-inning, one-hit loss to the Orioles.

"You have to embrace the situations, you have to take it pitch by pitch. The situations can't dictate your effort level," Menhart explained about his advice to his pitchers. "As long as you can calm yourself and enjoy that moment, that pitch, you won't even remember half the pitches you throw, if you get that locked in."
Harrisburg pitchers Pat McCoy, left, and Tyler Herron, right, wait in the Harrisburg bullpen in August 2013. Their pitching coach is former major leaguer Paul Menhart. (G21D Photo)
In Menhart's first year in the majors, 1995, he got into 21 games for the Blue Jays. In his other two years, he got into a total of 20 between the Mariners and the Padres, Menhart battling injuries along the way.

The injuries led to shoulder surgeries, ones Menhart didn't think he came back from as well as he could have. 

"I got to the point where I think I might have got a little comfortable and thinking I was going to stay, that I got here, that I'm going to do it," Menhart said.

"The drive that I had to get there wasn't the same as the drive that I should have had to stay there," Menhart added. "That was the unfortunate part for me, personally and I wish I would have done it a little differently."
Harrisburg starter Robbie Ray delivers to the plate in August 2013 at Metro Bank Park. Ray's pitching coach is Paul Menhart. (G21D Photo)
Menhart played his last major league game in 1997. But he didn't play his last game until four years later, in independent ball. In between, he played in five different major league systems, trying to get back.

Along the way, the veteran pitcher found himself helping teammates, and enjoying it. In his last season, as a player-coach for independent Solano, he even got the chance to manage some.

From there, he got into coaching, and finishing his degree. Menhart served three years as an assistant coach at Western Carolina, where he began.

He also used that extra money he got from the Blue Jays to help him finish his schooling. Once he did that, the Nationals came calling.

Menhart is in his eighth season in 2013 as a minor league coach for the Nationals, previously serving as pitching coach at Savannah, Hagerstown and Potomac.

Menhart is also married, with three kids, from eighth grade to college. He and his wife have been married for 22 years. This winter, he is also returning to winter ball, planning to serve as a coach in Venezuela.
Paul Menhart, pitching coach at AA Harrisburg at Metro Bank Park in August 2013. Menhart played in three major league seasons. (G21D Photo)
Menhart said his approach to coaching includes an occasional story from his playing days. But that is the exception. What he said he's tried to do is meld everything he learned from all his pitching coaches and use that to develop his pitchers.

He is also mindful that every pitcher is different.

"I do a lot of individual stuff, to make sure that they figure out who they are," Menhart said, "not trying to be somebody else, not trying to be anybody but themselves and to maximize what they've got.

"That's my biggest job here," Menhart said, "to make sure that they figure out who they are."

And the list of players Menhart has coached reads like the Nationals major league roster. He had John Lannan and Craig Stammen his first year at Savannah. He's also had Drew Storen, Taylor Jordan and Ian Krol.

Jordan and Krol both made their major league debuts in June 2013. And getting his players to the majors is the goal, Menhart said.

"It brings tears to me when guys make their major league debut," Menhart said. "It just, it really does. That's why I do it."

Part 1: That Rabbit | Part 2: Came Back | Part 3: Locked In

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