New field manager Matt Williams made a point during his opening introductory news conference to say how thankful he was that current Nationals players Ian Desmond, Tanner Roark and Jayson Werth were in attendance.
Williams said he was struck by a conversation he had with Desmond before the introduction to the media. Desmond told Williams he wanted to work a little bit harder. Williams said he was all for it.
That symbolized what kind of player Williams was - the marine, the Carson Crusher, a tireless worker, an on-field leader.
Desmond said he relishes the opportunity to work harder under his new manager’s direction.
“There is always room for improvement,” Desmond said. “I have always been a hard worker. I am looking forward to getting pushed. I think from what I hear from Matt is he is going to try some new things. Maybe not necessarily push me physically, but mentally kind of try to take me to the next level, and I am all for that.”
Werth and Roark did not believe Williams’ lack of managerial experience would deter success with the Nationals. Rather, all his experience as a player would serve as an asset to a still relatively young squad.
“You got a guy who played a long time,” Werth said. “You feel like the only way to really learn this game is to play it. He qualifies there for sure. The character that he has and displayed today and displayed in his playing career, I don’t think X’s and O’s are going to be a problem.”
Said Roark: “He was a player before, so he knows how to acclimate himself to the players. I think he’ll get used to it pretty fast, get used to the manager’s spot. He’ll know what to do. That’s what I like - he’s a spitfire.”
The coaching staff will remain relatively intact, starting first and foremost with bench coach Randy Knorr, who will stay on in the same capacity. With Knorr interviewing for the same job, could that be a point of friction between coach and manager? No, says Desmond and Werth. They think the pair can work well together.
“I think at this point it’s kind of irrelevant,” Desmond said. “I think two people is always stronger than one. It seems like from what I am hearing and what has been said that they are going to be in deep communication, bounce stuff off each other and use each other.
“I think that will be an asset. I think those two guys in communication with each other could be in essence one very strong manager.”
“He has got Randy (Knorr) right behind him,” he said. “I think sometimes when you got a guy like that and you don’t rely on him, it sometimes can be a bigger burden than if you do. I think the two of those guys at the helm is going to be great. Obviously, retaining Randy as bench coach, he has been here a long time and knows these guys, and keeping all the coaches is going to help add to the character of the club and the chemistry and ultimately winning. So I think we are on the right track.”
The players also argue that sometimes a new direction or new strategy can help the players tweak their game just a bit to take them to a more consistent level. They believe a new hire like Williams could be that type of spark for the Nationals.
“I think he is going to do great,” Desmond said. “I am intrigued by all the things that he was saying. It is the first time I have had a chance to hear his game plan. Everything he said makes sense. It is going to be a breath of fresh air, I think. We have played well over the last couple of years and we haven’t gotten to the championship game. I think there is nobody in our clubhouse or this organization that isn’t open to trying something new.”
Said Roark: “It’s always good to have somebody new, it’s exciting. I’ve had plenty of different coaches, but I’m excited about this one. I’m still competing for a job next season.”
As far as aggressive strategy on the field, Williams is more than willing to pressure a defense by stealing bases, going first to third, or sending runners. Williams was known for sending runners as third base coach for Arizona. He said he wants to continue that type of aggressive strategy with the Nationals.
Desmond believes that style blends well with the Nationals’ young and fast lineup.
“I think it fits our style very well,” Desmond said. “I think we have got some guys that are wanting to run. We have some spark plug-type guys. I expect for him to get the most out of us.”
Williams also is a student of sabermetrics to help find tendencies and use strategies to refine the team’s defensive positioning.
Desmond is willing to try new strategies like this to add to his game and he believes his teammates will follow suit.
“If that is defensive sabermetrics, the math side of it, I don’t think there is anybody that will be closed-minded about trying something new because we know we are a better team than what we have done,” Desmond said. “Even in the 98-win season we didn’t get to where we wanted to go. We understand that this window is only going to be open for a certain amount of time. I am personally willing to try anything to make the most of it.”
But Werth believes that with any new manager, the relationship is strongest when there is respect and communication between the players, the clubhouse and the manager.
Werth said he was intrigued when Williams spoke about how important managers Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter and Bob Brenly were to his career.
“I think when he was talking about the communication and when he talks about Dusty (Baker) and being a players’ manager,” Werth said. “I think that stuff is important. I want to play for a guy that I do want to run through a wall for. But he has got to be that guy. I think that he ultimately will be. He has been in the situation where he has been in my shoes where he has felt the same way about a manager. I think he understands the ins and outs of both sides of it. I think we really got the right guy for the job.”