Quick hits from a 30-minute chat with Matt Williams

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Reporters just got done with a 30-minute chat with Nationals manager Matt Williams here off to the side of the media work room at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, and while there wasn’t any real breaking news that came out of the session, we got plenty of interesting tidbits on how Williams plans to manage his team and what he’s accomplished so far.

I’ll have full quotes and more in-depth stuff in a bit, once I get a chance to sift through everything. But I wanted to first pass along some of the key points that were discussed during reporters’ session with Williams.

* First, some injury updates. Williams says Stephen Strasburg’s rehab from offseason elbow surgery to clear out bone chips from his right elbow is going “phenomenally” and that Strasburg will be “full-bore” from Day One of spring training. Same goes for Bryce Harper, who had minor surgery to debride and repair the bursa sac in his left knee, and Adam LaRoche, who had loose bodies removed from his left elbow. Williams joked that LaRoche, an avid hunter, has “been pulling back his bow, so his elbow is in good shape.”

matt-williams-winter-meetings-sidebar.JPG* Williams says he’s had contact with seven or eight Nationals players so far, including Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. Williams went to Werth’s house to meet with him (“He’s shaggy right now,” Williams said with a laugh) and spoke with Zimmerman last week “at great length”. He plans to have some contact with all the contributors on the Nats’ big league roster before spring training begins.

* In his conversation with these players, Williams said that he got a firm impression that the guys in the clubhouse will want to “make amends for (last season). They want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” No surprise, really, but interesting that Williams already got that sense just from initial talks with a few of the key guys.

* How prepared is the Nationals’ new skipper? He already has the first 25 days of spring training mapped out, down to the last detail. Spring training sessions will be “rapid-fire and short,” Williams says, where players are pushed through some more intense workouts than they’ve had in past springs and then given a chance to work on positional drills later in the day.

* Williams has asked former manager Davey Johnson to come to spring training and assist the team in some regard, but Johnson hasn’t accepted Williams’ offer just yet, afraid of stepping on the new skipper’s toes. Williams said that he’s asked Johnson’s advice on some matters and wants him to remain involved, and that the Nats will “make a big to-do for him” if he shows up to Viera. Now that he’s moved on from the managerial role, Johnson is currently on board as an advisor.

* I asked Williams where he specifically wants to see the Nationals improve in 2014, and he listed three areas of focus: team defense (he said the Nats have the ability to be much improved defensively over 2013), offensive efficiency (“If we score three runs a game, we’ve got a really good chance,” he said) and taking advantage of players’ speed.

* It sure sounds like Williams plans on resting his regulars a bit more than Johnson did. Williams emphasized the need to use all 25 players on the roster, and said that he wants to make sure that guys like Wilson Ramos and Werth will be fresh in September. Williams also noted that with how hard Harper plays, he’ll likely need days off from time to time to rest various bumps and bruises, and Williams said he’ll have no trouble telling veteran players that they’re out of the lineup on a given day. “I’m not afraid to make those decisions,” he said.

* As far as how he sees his bullpen shaping up, Williams said he’d ideally like to have two left-handed relievers - one that is a long reliever that can work 4-5 innings in a pinch, and one that is more of a set-up type lefty that can get quality left-handed hitters out, but also attack righties and work a full inning. If Ross Detwiler doesn’t win the job as the No. 5 starter, he could end up being the left-handed long man in the bullpen.

* Williams didn’t want to reveal much when I asked how he plans to structure his lineup, but “my pitcher is going to hit ninth,” he said with a smile. Denard Span will lead off, and Williams sees either Ian Desmond or Anthony Rendon being an option in the No. 2 spot. He then has his choice of a few “big, hairy guys, no pun intended, in the middle of the lineup.” Like Johnson, it sounds like Williams wants to alternate lefties and righties in the batting order to make things tough on opposing managers when it comes to managing their bullpen, which could leave Harper hitting third and either Zimmerman or Werth fourth. With Harper, though, Williams wants to put the 21-year-old in a spot where he feels comfortable stealing a base and using his speed.

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