Page takes leave of absence
Harris takes over as Nationals' interim hitting coach
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals granted hitting coach Mitchell Page a leave of absence for personal reasons and named Lenny Harris the interim hitting coach on Friday afternoon.
When reached by phone, Page said that he is leaving for medical reasons and is going home to Melbourne, Fla., to see Dr. Bruce Thomas, the team's former physician, on Monday. Page is a regular patient of Thomas.
Sources confirmed that Page has an appointment with Thomas. However, sources close to the Nationals believe that Page has more than just a medical problem.
Page was adamant that his problems were not alcohol-related. Page left the Cardinals after the 2004 season because of substance abuse. He said that he is losing feeling on the left side of his body. According to Page, he is having problems holding on to a cup of coffee and walking to the batting cage.
"Drinking has nothing to do with it. I'm not going to rehab," Page said. "I have to do this. I lost control of my body. Just holding on to a cup of coffee -- I'm dropping them."
Page said that he talked to general manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten on Friday afternoon about his problem.
Page did not want to talk about his future with the Nationals, but sources said that he most likely will not be back with the Major League club.
Page is considered a respected hitting coach and is credited for tutoring Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Ryan Zimmerman. He was in his third season with the Nationals -- two as a hitting coach and one as a hitting coordinator. Washington currently ranks 29th among 30 Major League teams in offense with a .227 batting average.
"The leave of absence has absolutely nothing to do with the team's hitting, has nothing to do with his performances as a hitting coach," Bowden said. "We consider Mitchell one of the best hitting coaches in baseball. The personal issue is going to be kept private, and we're going to all respect his privacy. We're going to support him in every way possible."
As for Harris, he is widely respected in the Major League Baseball community. There are people who believe he will make a great manager someday, but Harris told MLB.com during Spring Training that he prefers a coaching job.
"That was people putting into my head about being a manager," Harris said at the time. "I would never want to be a manager. I like coaching. I like helping out the kids. I would like to have a first-base coaching job or a bench-coaching job. I'm a motivator type of guy. I don't feel like managing is for me. A lot of people tell me that I would be great at it, but I know my role. I just know I can get guys ready to play and motivate them a little bit."
Harris, 42, joins manager Manny Acta's staff on an interim basis after beginning the season as the Nationals' infield coordinator at the Minor League level.
Originally Cincinnati's fifth-round selection in the 1983 First-Year Player Draft, Harris hit .269 with 37 home runs, 369 RBIs and 131 stolen bases in 1,903 big-league games. Perhaps best known as baseball's all-time leader in pinch-hits (212), Harris was a part of four postseasons, including the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship club.
"Lenny's been in several postseason locker rooms," Bowden said. "He's a winner, he's a leader. Both Manny Acta and I have known him for many years. Both respect what he brings to the table and think he'll do a tremendous job on an interim basis here."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. Jeff Seidel contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.