Hairston likes Williams’ approach, how Nats have beefed up bench

For a change, Nationals outfielder Scott Hairston didn’t go into an offseason wondering where he’d be playing the following campaign. He’s got a new manager to get used to, and a new spring training base to acquaint himself with in a couple of weeks, but he knows his team and his role entering the 2014 season.

“I think it takes a toll psychologically when you’re not sure where you’re going to be,” Hairston said while meeting with reporters at NatsFest at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center. “I’ve had a lot of time to prepare mentally, and it’s a good feeling, especially being part of this organization. I think there’s optimism there.”

For the past three winters, Hairston has been in baseball no-man’s land. The Padres made him a free agent in December 2010 and he signed as a free agent with the Mets the following month. He tested free agency the following offseason before re-signing with the Mets, but was cut loose in October after the 2012 season ended. Hairston signed a free agent deal with the Cubs, who traded him to Washington in July.

“I was a free agent a few times, and it’s not as easy as people think,” he said. “I’m happy to be in a situation where I can prepare.”

At 33 and with 10 big league seasons under his belt, Hairston knows his role with the Nationals: He’ll back up in the outfield and provide a right-handed bat off the bench with some power. He’s had six straight seasons of double-digit homers and is only two seasons removed from a career-high 20 homers with the Mets.

While some players eschew the sports pages and Internet transactions during the offseason, Hairston has kept a close eye on the Nats’ maneuverings.

“I pay attention. I’m eager to see the improvement in the organization. Having Matt Williams as a manager, I think that was a great move. Having Doug Fister in our rotation, too, is going to help out this team a lot. How can you not be excited? I’m very excited.”

Hairston knows Williams a little from their time in the Diamondbacks organization, but that was a decade ago. Hairston was working his way through Double-A and Triple-A in Williams’ last season as a player in 2003, but they shared a spring training together.

“He went about his business, serious and intense,” Hairston said. “I think that it’s going to translate very well to a new team. He’s not that far removed from being a player, and he played in three different decades and has a lot of experience. That says a lot.”

Williams and Hairston met Friday night and Hairston said the rookie manager “is getting a grip on the team. You can tell he has a plan and he’s excited. We’re all excited.”

One of the Nats’ goals this offseason was to improve their bench, and Hairston is happy with the moves they’ve made.

“I think Nate McLouth is really good. Nate’s been around a long time, a left-handed hitter with power, and I think that’s definitely an upgrade,” Hairston said. “The bench is so important, especially if you’re trying to win a World Series. I think the team’s coming together really well (in) all facets - rotation, relievers, starters, bench guys. We have enough talent, I think, to really go far into the playoffs, hopefully win a World Series.”

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