Sunday, October 20, 2019

Even casual baseball fans know names like Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon.

And while those superstars are the catalysts behind the Washington Nationals’ first trip to the World Series, there are other names — Troy Gingrich, Mark Grater, Randy Knorr and Bob Henley and others — who’ve toiled behind the scenes in service of the same goal.

“The foot soldiers,” Nationals assistant general manager Doug Harris called the four coaches who have worked for the franchise for years.

Gingrich is the minor league hitting coordinator, Grater is the pitching rehab coordinator, Knorr is the Triple-A Fresno manager and Henley is the Nationals’ third base coach who thrives on taking risks.

“Our fans are fired up right now,” Henley told the Washington Times. “It is just a great feeling.”

A 46-year-old native of Alabama, Henley was drafted by the Expos in 1991 and made his major league debut with the team seven years later. The catcher later became a coach and took over third base duties with the Nationals in 2014.

“It has been a long time,” Henley said. “I am just excited for all of the fans and ownership and everyone that has worked so hard.”

Among those down in the minors who have done just that is Gingrich, who was drafted by the Expos out of the University of Arizona in 2000 and turned to coaching four years later in the Montreal system.

As a minor league coach and instructor, Gingrich has worked with current Nationals including Rendon, left fielder Juan Soto and center fielder Victor Robles.

Gingrich said he had a feeling the Nationals would rise to the challenge this postseason.

“It is a different vibe with this group,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich was also in the batting cages this summer when the Nationals sent center fielder Michael A. Taylor back to Double-A Harrisburg. Taylor worked on his swing and rejoined the Nationals in September. Taylor then hit a home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with the St. Louis Cardinals as Robles dealt with hamstring issues.

“(Taylor) is one when he gets more consistent at-bats he gets better,” Gingrich said.

While Gingrich has worked with hitters, pitching guru Spin Williams has traveled throughout North America teaching mechanics to young hurlers in the Nationals system.

Williams, who worked with Strasburg after the Nationals made him their top pick in 2009, was among those, along with general manager Mike Rizzo, who felt it was smart to shut down Strasburg during the 2012 playoffs as he came back from Tommy John surgery. The decision was ridiculed by many, but now Strasburg is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. Williams said the days of starters throwing 300 innings a year are over.

“You have to adjust to the times,” Williams said.

Williams, Gingrich and other minor league instructors and scouts plan to converge on Nationals Park next weekend as Washington hosts Games 3 and 4, and if necessary Game 5, of the World Series. It will be a reward for those hours put in with young players on minor league fields from Hagerstown, Maryland to Auburn, New York.

“They are a big reason we are here,” Harris said of his foot soldiers.

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