In many ways, Davey Johnson was a players’ manager. One of those ways was that he ran a pretty laid-back spring training, in which early workouts usually were complete well before noon and veterans often weren’t required to go on the long road trips.
Things will probably be a bit different under new Nationals manager Matt Williams.
Williams said at the Winter Meetings in December that he had the first 25 days of spring training totally mapped out. At NatsFest last weekend, Williams noted that the schedule was completely taken care of, with the date and time of each workout planned well in advance.
“Day one through 41,” Williams said with a smile. “It’s all there.”
Now it remains to be seen how packed these 41 days will be and how hard Williams will push his players during workouts. But given Williams’ comments about wanting to improve the Nationals’ team defense, and the need to bolster other areas like pitchers holding runners, it sure feels like these early-spring workouts will be a bit more strenuous than the ones Nationals players have experienced the past couple seasons.
Asked whether his workouts will be “tougher” than what the players might be used to, Williams paused for a second to consider the question.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be tougher,” Williams said. “I think it’s just ... regimented. That’s a good way to put it. I get all bunched up if I don’t have a plan. Oftentimes, that plan is completely wrong, but at least I have a plan. We’ll change and it’ll be fluid and all of those things. But at least we know going in we’ve got it kind of mapped out with what we want to accomplish.”
Williams might not know how tough his workouts will be, but he does know that he’s going to keep the veterans active during spring training games. That includes sending them on the longer road trips, or at least making sure that they’re doing something productive that day if they don’t travel, instead of just getting the day off to play golf.
“Oh, yeah, they’ll be going,” Williams said. “We’ve got that planned. We’ve got to get them ABs. They’ve gotta play. If they don’t go, they’ll have work to do back (in Viera).”
Nearly all of the players who have been asked about their discussions with Williams this offseason - be it phone calls, in-person meetings or casual dinners - described the new Nats skipper as “intense”. They can tell that he means business, and that probably will show during spring training, when Williams is trying to mold the players in his way and get the team playing his kind of ball.
Apparently, Williams’ idea of a more structured spring training with what seems will be tighter reins on his players is perfectly fine with ownership. While Jayson Werth noted that the Nats were plenty successful in 2012 when Johnson ran a laid-back spring training, Nationals owner Mark Lerner said that in retrospect, Johnson’s 2013 spring training was not as tough as it should have been.
And Lerner seems pretty pleased that Williams plans to tighten things up a bit in spring this year.
“I think that the way we handled spring training (in 2013) was not as good as it could be,” Lerner said in an appearance on 106.7 the Fan. “I think it wasn’t as disciplined as it could be. I think we’ll go into this year, Matt is very meticulous and like the Marines he has every day planned out, and I think you need that. You’ve got to play every game from April 1 like it’s a playoff game, and you just can’t go in there (thinking) you’ll get moving in May, June. It doesn’t happen that way. So I think it was a lot of lessons learned by everybody in the organization, that you have to come in 1000 percent prepared.”
Once we’re actually down in Viera, it will likely take a couple weeks to really get a feel for the type of spring training that Williams is going to run. Just because he’s mapped out all 41 days and plans to send veterans on road trips doesn’t mean that he’ll be running a boot camp.
But it’s clear that Williams will take spring training as an opportunity to make the Nationals his team. He won’t just follow the path that Johnson has blazed and he won’t keep things loose just because that’s the way things were run in the past. Williams has his own ideas for how spring training should be managed, and he’s going to implement them.