VIERA, Fla. - Matt Williams admits he had a little trouble sleeping last night ahead of his first workout as Nationals manager.
Williams got out of bed early and made his way to the Nats’ spring facility by 5 a.m. He got in a workout, then went over to the minor league facility at 5:45 to mess around with one of the minor league coaches.
Even though he had already gone over today’s schedule dozens of times - he joked that yesterday’s mental run-though of the schedule marked the 5,000th time he’d done so - Williams was still a little nervous going into today’s workout. A few changes had been made to the way the Nats had previously run camp, and Williams wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly.
It did, minus the fact that the air horn that third base coach Bobby Henley blew to signal the start of camp malfunctioned. If something has to go wrong, I guess the air horn malfunctioning is pretty manageable.
The rain - which was in the forecast for this morning - stayed away, all the stations were run smoothly, and Williams got a quick message across to the pitchers who will be in camp this spring in a meeting after 9 a.m.
“Just that everything starts with them, everything starts with the guy who holds the baseball,” Williams said. “That we’re going to do it with conviction and that we’re prepared every time that they take the mound. So it was short and sweet. We’ll get into a bigger meeting when everybody gets here, but I thought it was good.”
One of the more noticeable changes that we saw to the workout routine on the first day was that Williams has asked for transportation to be provided for the players to shuttle them from the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium down to the minor league fields where the workouts are held. Instead of having the players make the 10-minute walk to the fields, as they had in the past, rides in vans or on golf carts are now mandatory.
“I want to give the players an opportunity to get over there and do their work,” Williams said. “So we’ve got vans, we’ve got carts, so we’ll transport them over to the minor league complex every day and transport them back so we can make sure that we’re efficient in what we do. That’s a small change, but it’s different.”
Another minor adjustment: pitchers who were taking part in bunt drills today didn’t just man their normal position on the mound, they also rotated around the diamond, playing the other infield positions, as well. That not only kept the mood loose and gave the pitchers something fresh to do, but it allowed them to get a feel for what’s going on behind them in such situations during games.
Williams is used to hitting fungos and throwing batting practice during workouts from his days as a third base coach, but he’s in a new role now, one that requires that he watch the pitchers and try and get a feel for where everyone should be slotted on the roster. It’ll be an ongoing adjustment for Williams to try and relinquish some of the control over his previous duties, but doing so today allowed him to watch up close as his pitchers threw bullpen sessions.
“I can tell you this: There’s some really good arms in this organization,” Williams said. “So that was my impression of today. Looking at the other parts of it, I’ll meet with the coaches when we’re done here and get their thoughts on all of the different stations that we had today, find out what their thoughts were. But there’s some guys that can really throw the baseball here.”
Williams has already been getting some ribbing from his coaches about how intensely he’s planned and how much he wants to be involved in everything. Every time Williams says the word “schedule,” he needs to put a dollar into the pot, and he says there’s already a few bucks built up there after just one day. He’s trying to rely more on the guys alongside him, and Henley, bench coach Randy Knorr and defensive coordination coach Mark Weidemaier hope to help Williams by letting him know they can take some stuff off his plate.
“They help me out with that,” Williams said. “In different ways, of course, but mostly telling me, ‘Go in your office and relax. Leave us alone, let us handle it.’ And so it’s been good so far, in the three or four days that we’ve been together.
“I think my biggest thing right now is, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”