VIERA, Fla. - Yesterday, I mentioned that manager Matt Williams and new third base coach Bobby Henley were seen practicing signs in an empty Space Coast Stadium about two hours after nearly all the players had left the facility for the day.
What exactly were Williams and Henley doing? Why couldn’t they just practice those signs over dinner or in a meeting room?
Turns out, Henley wanted to make sure that he had a good view of Williams from the third base coach’s box here at Space Coast Stadium, and the two men also wanted to work out any of the kinks that can come with a new manager and coach duo working together.
“He’s got experience, but his experience is he was the manager and he was running it in his own brain,” Williams said of Henley, who has previously managed at multiple levels in the Nationals’ minor league system. “So there’s a difference between trying to figure out what the guy in the dugout’s thinking, and the exchange of the signs. He hasn’t been (in the third base coach’s box) for a while, so we just practiced. It’s like anything else. These guys go through bullpens, we take BP, we take grounders. He and I have to get on the same page, that’s all. We’re just practicing.”
I spotted Williams and Henley practicing some more today as they got ready to move from one station to another during workouts. They stood about five feet apart, and Williams fired off signs at a good speed, tapping his nose and ear as Henley tried to decipher what Williams was calling for.
“It’s part of the process,” Williams said. “I know. I’ve been the guy out there, so I know how important it is for me as the third base coach to understand what the manager’s thinking, and now I’m on the other side now, so I have to make sure he’s comfortable with me and my idiosyncrasies, the way I do things or body language or whatever it is.”
A bit ago, I gave you quotes from Adam LaRoche, who has bulked up a bit this offseason and feels healthy entering spring. Now, I’ll give you quotes from Williams about LaRoche.
Williams was asked what his plan is with LaRoche this season, and how often, say, he plans on giving him days off against left-handed starters.
“I think it depends on how he’s swinging, one,” Williams said. “If he’s seeing the ball well, it really doesn’t matter. How many days in a row he’s played, all those things come into play over the course of the season. There’s no set plan right now, but there will be times where we just 1) want to give him a day, and we pick that day because there’s a lefty going or he doesn’t match up well. And 2) if we want to stack the lineup against a lefty with right-handed hitters, we can do that, too.”
LaRoche has been pretty steady over the course of his career, with his season numbers usually aligning pretty similarly with what he’s done in the past. Last year was obviously different, as LaRoche struggled mightily, hitting just .237 and slugging .403. What gives him Williams confidence that last year was the outlier for LaRoche and that he is isn’t starting to just decline?
“I just think he’s too good a player,” Williams said. “The question is, you look at Adam, you go, generally, he hasn’t started the season well. Last year, it was the opposite. He started the season the well early on. Sometimes, there are years like that. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. I think he’s healthy and I think he feels good. He’ll be a big part of it, because we need him. And he’ll play a lot over there.
“The key for me with him is to make sure he has enough at-bats in spring to feel comfortable. So there may be times where he doesn’t play in the major league game, but he goes to the minor leagues, and he can lead off an inning for six straight innings and get six quality ABs over there, where he wouldn’t normally get in the major league game. That’s possible. We’ll pick our spots there, too.
“I look for him to hit us a boatload of doubles. I’m not concerned about him hitting the ball over the fence. Drive runs in. I’ve stood at first base and watched him hit 30 over the fence and drive in 100 on a team that was a big strikeout team in Arizona. I’ve seen it happen. I know what he needs to do to do that. He needs to hit the ball back through the middle and the other way. He’ll work on that.”
Xavier Cedeno was one of five left-handers who toed the rubber in the 10-pack during one bullpen group today. I wrote about Cedeno the other day, and this afternoon, Williams was asked how he sees Cedeno fitting into his plans.
“We don’t know that at this point,” Williams said. “I’ll tell you what I do like. I do like his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. He’s got multiple angles. The question is, how does he handle righties? That’s always the question. I like that feel of him, certainly, against a lefty in a situational spot or a left-right-left situation. So that’s what we’ll look at spring and make a determination.”
And how about another lefty, Sammy Solis? How does Williams see the 25-year-old, who had Tommy John surgery back in early 2012, being used this spring?
“He’s going to get ample opportunity,” Williams said. “We’ve got to build up his innings. ... I’d like him to build up to a point where he can throw multiple innings if need be. And he can start if need be. We’d like to get him to that point. You have guys that come off of injury, you have to make sure they’re ready to go. I want him to be 100 percent, full-go. We’ll increase his innings and see where he ends up. There’s spots available and he’s going to compete for one of them.”
And what about A.J. Cole, another one of the Nats’ young hurlers who looked good during today’s workout?
“The ball just comes out of his hand really well,” Williams said. “It just does. He’s a little crossfire, which is good. For me, he’s got the ultimate pitchers’ body. It’s long and he gets out front and the ball explodes out of his hand. I like it.”