VIERA, Fla. - Wonder what went into Matt Williams’ thinking on his lineup for Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Mets?
Wonder no more.
“Just planning the whole thing out for spring,” Williams said today. “Understanding that, one, we want to get a look at guys (and), two, We want to stack our main guys to ramp at the end of spring, certainly get more playing time. As everybody knows, just ramp it up. And of course, the road trip as opposed to a home game, making sure that we kind of space that out. There’s no getting around kind of going on the road here. So we try to space that out as much as possible for our veteran guys, certainly.
“So there’s really not much to it except trying to set the next few games. Make sure everybody gets in. Try and get everybody in in the first couple of them. Go from there.”
Williams’ travel rosters for each spring road game will include a number of veteran players, who some managers show deference to by not forcing them to sit on the bus for many long road trips.
“Yeah, I mean there’s no getting around it,” Williams said. “With the frequency in which we want them to play, you have to. There’s a stretch in the middle of spring when we have a bunch of home games in a row, but other than that, we’re on the road a lot. So we’ve got to get ‘em out there and get ‘em going. So it’s gonna happen.”
I mentioned earlier that the Nationals plan on having Taylor Jordan throw two innings Friday against the Mets. That’s the ideal scenario, but it’s not set in stone. The Nats would like Jordan to have a smooth, brief first and then be able to complete two innings, but he could end up working less than that.
That said, Williams said he won’t have his pitchers on a hard pitch-cap during this first spring start, either.
“They’ve had multiple bullpen sessions, multiple live (batting practice) sessions,” Williams said. “And I would anticipate that their first time out in a game wouldn’t even be as heavy (a workload) as their last couple of live BP sessions. But you don’t know that. So I want them to feel good when they’re out there. The goal would be get ‘em a couple innings and then take the next step next time out.”
Because most teams end up inserting their backups and guys lower down on the depth chart in the middle-to-late innings during spring games, some managers like using their closer or their late-inning relievers early in games to ensure that they face quality big league hitters.
“I would like to see those guys get in as quickly after the starter as they can,” Williams said. “But then again, we also have we wanna look at (it) with lefty-lefty matchup situations, too. So if it stacks that way, for the next inning, we may use our lefty as opposed to our later-inning guys and delay them an inning. We’ll see how it goes. The hope is they’ll get right in there after the starter.”
Williams doesn’t put a lot of stock in closers actually getting to close games in spring, so don’t expect to see Soriano finishing off a Grapefruit League victory anytime in the next few weeks. That said, toward the end of spring, we might see Soriano back working the ninth, regardless of the score or what hitters he’s facing.
“When we get later in spring, we’ll try to use them in their respective roles so they get used to it again,” Williams said. “And they’ve all been out there. They know what they’re doing. You also get accustomed to sitting for eight innings. It’s not easy if you haven’t done it in five months. Toward the end, we’ll ramp to that, too, and get them into their roles a little bit more.”
Spring training pretty much breaks down into two sections - the workouts before games begin, and the games. Tomorrow marks the last day of true full-squad workouts before Friday’s spring opener, and Williams will take it easy on his guys tomorrow morning with a lighter schedule that includes just batting practice and brief fielding drills.
“I think they’ve had fun and they’ve worked really hard,” Williams said of workouts to this point. “I know they’re all itching to get into games and have a different uniform sitting in the other dugout. That’s a good sign. I think the offensive players are about sick and tired of live batting practice. That’s good. They’ve gotten a chance to see a lot of different guys and get a lot of looks, but now it’s time to put it to work. Let’s go. We’ll start the games on Friday and go. I think everybody is excited. Me too.”
As for Williams, how’s he liked his first two weeks as a big league skipper?
“Loved it,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking because I’ve never been on this side of it, but it’s rewarding that we’ve gotten here and we’re on the verge of starting games and having it ramp up a little bit and being faster for everybody. I look forward to it.”