Nationals manager Matt Williams fielded questions about second baseman Anthony Rendon and why he has garnered so much interest to be included in the Final Vote for next week’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis.
“Anthony continues to understand himself and what he can and can’t do,” Williams said. “For me, I think he’s shown more power than anybody expected him to show. And that’s power to his pull side. Everybody understands his swing and fact that he can hit the ball the other way. You talk about the prototypical two hitter in all of those things. But I think the thing that stood out for me is him being able to drive the baseball, especially to the left-center field gap and to his pull side. I think he’s shown he has got more power than people thought he had.”
Rendon already has 12 homers and 50 RBIs in 83 games. Last season, he connected on seven homers and 35 RBIs in 98 games.
Williams believes Rendon has gained experience in just one full calendar year and knows more of what to expect with each at-bat. And he just turned 24-years-old on June 6.
“I just think he’s understanding the league a little more. We have to realize how young he is, certainly to the big leagues,” Williams said. “He is understanding the league, he’s getting more and more reps with the same pitchers, especially within the division.”
Williams also points to Rendon and his incredible hand speed and quickness with the bat as a prime reason for his hitting success. Many scouts and coaches have said this is why Rendon is so good.
“You start to understand yourself, and what you can and can’t do more the more you play. He’s got lightning quick hands,” Williams said. “I think the power comes not necessarily from weight or being stronger or any of that. I think it comes from him having knowledge of what the pitcher is going to try to do. So he can say ‘well, I have a good feeling on a pitch here that I think he’s going to throw’ and he can look for that pitch and the head gets out and he drives the baseball.
“I think he’ll naturally get bigger as he gets older like everybody else does. He’s just got lightning quick hands. Played really well.”
Williams is facing his former manager Buck Showalter for the first time since he played for him back in the late 1990s. Williams said he admired how meticulously Showalter studied for each game and each opponent.
“I try to be as prepared as possible. I think for me, he was the most prepared manager I ever played for,” Williams declared. “This was back in a time where we didn’t necessarily have the match up sheets that showed what this particular guy is against that particular pitcher for his career and this year and the last three years too. But Buck was prepared for any situation. He knew exactly who Greg Colbrunn was going to hit off of in that series, so he was prepared for that.
“I think he runs the game great. Certainly taught me a lot inadvertently as a player. You never think about it when you are playing. But now things come up during the game, and you go ‘oh yeah, I remember what Buck did there or how he handled that situation. He’s a great teacher.”
Williams believed Showalter’s managing in Arizona those early years are different than what he had to do this season with the Nationals in his first season as a skipper in the majors.
“The situation’s different. Certainly with an expansion team, he was the guy that helped build that team,” Williams said. “Even before that team was ready to play in 1998, he was involved in it.
“Once we had that team, he created the culture of we are going to do it this way and we’re all going to be the same for now. But I think he had to do it that way. When you have an expansion team, you have to set the precedent for how the organization’s going to be run. He did a fantastic job with it.”
Williams said he appreciated the structure that Showalter taught in Phoenix. He loved that the “A” for Arizona was prominently displayed on each of their socks.
Williams recalled a specific example of how Showalter demonstrated his moxie as a manager.
The Diamondbacks were in San Francisco facing Barry Bonds with the bases loaded and two outs late in the game. Up by two runs, and Gregg Olson pitching, Showalter elected to intentionally walk Bonds to let in a run.
Now the Diamondbacks led by just one run, but they had prevented Bonds from deciding the game with a big base hit or a grand slam.
“It takes a great deal of intestinal fortitude, I guess is the right way to put, to do something like that,” Williams said. “What he showed in that regard was that he had confidence in our pitching staff, he had confidence in our defense, and he had confidence that that guy on the mound, which was Gregg Olson, would get the next guy out.
“He took upon himself as the manager to say, ‘nope, I’m going to walk Bonds here.’ Walk a run in and now be up by one run with the bases loaded knowing that one swing of the bat could lose the game for us. But that intestinal fortitude and commitment to what he wanted to do showed us a lot as a team.”
Arizona was able to record the next out and ended up winning the game.
Williams believes the Showalter-led Orioles will be a tough team to beat this week because they are good.
“They got a really good team with a really good manager,” Williams said. “It’s going to come down to execution. We’ll have to do things right for us to have a chance to beat these guys.”