LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - I passed along some quick-hit notes from Matt Williams’ session with reporters earlier today, but now that our meeting with general manager Mike Rizzo is done and I’ve had a chance to settle in a bit, I can provide some more in-depth quotes from the Nationals’ new skipper.
Since being named Nats manager more than five weeks ago, Williams has tried to hit the ground running. He’s met with a handful of Nationals players, integrated himself in organizational meetings and soaked up as much information as he can.
Williams is the boss, but he’s also, as he puts it, “the new dude,” and so he has lots of learning to do. That learning might include the very fine aspects, like certain players’ tendencies when behind in the count or how a pitcher fields his position, but it’s also broader aspects as well.
“What I’ve learned is that this organization is very concerned with winning,” Williams said. “There are high expectations, and we all embrace that. You don’t get those high expectations unless you have a team that’s willing to fulfill them or capable of fulfilling them. So all those things and all the pressure that comes along with that is good. We’re embracing that and I’m excited about that.
“I’ve learned that they’re meticulous in the way they go about planning. And we’ve had good dialogue, really good dialogue in the last couple of days, and in the suite and amongst the scouts and everybody involved, on potential players and what we could and couldn’t do. It’s been fun. It’s been good.”
In his conversations with various Nationals players over the last handful of weeks, Williams has also learned that his players are still upset with how their 2013 season transpired, with what was set up to be a promising campaign turning into an incredibly disappointing record as a result of a rocky first four months.
“They’re a little disappointed in how things went last year, especially,” Williams said. “And again, two years ago, winning more games than anyone else and not making it to where they wanted to get to is disappointing. But they’re even more disappointed in what happened last year. They want to make amends for that. They want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And that’s the players talking, which is great.
“So you sit there as the manager, man, these guys are on it. They’re ready to go. They are itching to get back and start and all of those things. We’re going to have to do things right next year, and all of that, to play well. But they’re looking to get back, which is a really good sign.”
As the Nationals try and piece together the back end of their roster, sifting through left-handed relief options and poking around looking for guys who could bolster their bench, Rizzo says he’s been consulting Williams in order to see how various guys could fit. Potential free agent or trade acquisitions are only valuable if they are used to their full potential. So it’s important for Rizzo and Williams to be on the same page with how Williams plans to use his bullpen arms and bench players.
“It’s new because I’ve never really been the manager that was able to speak in that regard,” Williams said. “But it’s been great. My opinion is asked. They ask my opinion. They want to know what I think. They want to know how I would have that player play within the team concept. They want to get any thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses and what they can and can’t do. All of those things are important.
“It is a collective effort, though, I’ll tell you that. Riz takes advice from a lot of people, digests it, processes it, and makes sure that he makes the right decision. And he’s done a wonderful job of that.”
Meanwhile, one quote that I passed along drew some readers’ attention and led to some questions in the comments section, and so I wanted to share Williams’ full comments in hopes of clearing up his full meaning. I asked Williams where he wanted to see improvement from the Nats this season, and he singled out three specific areas.
“One, we have to be better than 13th in the league in defense,” Williams siad. “We have the ability to be better than that, much better than that. So that’s something that we want to address. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, of course, but it’s something that we want to make emphasis on. We want to get to spring and say here’s the plan, let’s try to go execute that plan.
“Offensive efficiency has been talked about a million times, but it’s true. (Hitting coach) Rick Schu is very in tune with that and he’s excited to get back to spring training. He had a half a year with these guys, and they made great improvement. But he’s excited about that prospect, and scoring some more runs. We know with the pitching staff and what we had last year, and certainly the addition of Doug Fister, it even comes into play more this year, score three runs a game, you have a really good chance. We have to concentrate on that kind of stuff.
“We’ve got some fellows with some speed, and we can use that as well. Those are the areas that we want to look at a little bit closer. Certainly do everything else that we thought of, that every team thinks of in spring training, getting their starters prepared, look at the bullpen, make sure we’ve got guys in place, knowing roles, all of those things. But those three areas, in particular, I think we can concentrate on a little bit more.”