In the early days of spring, Williams keeping an open mind on roster construction

VIERA, Fla. - While a host of position players have rolled into the Space Coast Stadium complex over the last handful of days, I don’t think I realized just how close the Nationals were to having their full complement of players in camp until late yesterday afternoon, when I went up and down the roster, checking off the names of everyone who had arrived.

Turns out, the only players on the 40-man roster I had yet to spot by the time things wrapped up yesterday were outfielders Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Jeff Kobernus.

Those three will be arriving today, the deadline for position players to report to camp. Position players can take part in another light workout today and then will take their physicals tomorrow. The first full-squad workout will be on Thursday. Then we can really get things going.

You hear everyone describe new Nats manager Matt Williams as intense, but don’t let that fool you. The guy has a sense of humor, as well.

He showcased that sense of humor yesterday, when during his daily morning meeting with his players, a projection screen was set up on the far end of the clubhouse and this picture of Gio Gonzalez was shown. Gonzalez apparently had no idea the prank was coming, and everyone got a good laugh out of the model-type pose the left-hander was showcasing in the picture.

“It was a little light-hearted moment in the meeting,” Williams said. “All of a sudden, I don’t know where it came from, but all of a sudden I had (the picture) via email.”

As I noted before coming down to Viera, one of the storylines I’m most interested in following this spring is how Williams takes to his new job. How intense will the full-squad workouts be? What type of rapport will he have with his players? What will be the mix of intensity and humor? How will he go about piecing together his roster?

Williams admitted the other day that he’s already started the evaluation process, even in the very early stages of workouts. But yesterday, when reporters asked Williams how he viewed various young pitchers and what type of role he sees each of them taking on, Williams didn’t get into specifics.

Part of that might be his style, that he doesn’t want to tip his hand. Time will tell whether that’s the case. But another part of it is that he doesn’t yet feel comfortable locking guys into specific roles when he hasn’t seen many of them throw more than once with his own eyes.

So when reporters asked whether Christian Garcia will be used as a starter or a reliever, when we asked whether Sammy Solis has a shot to win a bullpen job out of camp, when a reporter even asked whether A.J. Cole could be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the Nats rotation, Williams’ response remained pretty much the same: We’ll see.

“I’m going to rely on (pitching coach Steve McCatty), certainly, because he’s seen them, and the rest of the staff,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of guys that I haven’t seen. This is my first time actually viewing them. So we’ll have those conversations. But right now it’s, ‘Let’s get them strong, let’s get into games.’ Hitter steps in there, it’s completely different. So we have to see how they perform in that situation, too.

“They all come with fantastic pedigree and I hear everybody talk about them. I’ve seen all the stats, all those things. (But) I’ve got to view them with my own eyes when they get into games to see how we go. Yeah, right now I don’t have a set, ‘This is what I want.’ Like we talked about the other day, everybody would love to have two lefties in their bullpen. We’ll see how that works. So we’ll make that determination as we go. Right now I’m just getting to know them.”

Here’s today’s quote of the day, written atop the morning schedule sheet: “Expect the ball to be hit; demand it be caught.”

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