Williams on the fifth starter competition, bus pranks, Sunday’s starter and more

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - On his first pregame bus ride as Nationals manager, Matt Williams was in a joking mood.

So when he saw defensive coordination and advance coach Mark Weidemaier nodding off twice during the bus ride, he tried to sneak up on Weidemaier and snap a picture. Both times, however, Weidemaier quickly snapped up.

“He opened up his eyes, so I couldn’t get it,” Williams said with a smile in the dugout at Tradition Field a bit ago. “We’ll see what we can do on the return trip.”

What was Williams planning to do with the picture, had he gotten one?

“They go on the board,” he said. “We have a little fun with it. Reference something (like): They’re working so hard, they have to fall asleep.”

Weidemaier got a laugh when I brought up the incident to him after our pregame session with Williams.

“He’ll get me eventually,” Weidemaier said. “But not today.”

One of the few true roster battles the Nationals have this spring is for their fifth starter job. Ross Detwiler would appear to be the favorite to win the No. 5 spot, but Tanner Roark and today’s starter, Taylor Jordan, are also legitimate candidates. Ross Ohlendorf could also be a factor, and at least publicly, Williams has mentioned A.J. Cole and Sammy Solis as candidates, as well.

“I’m hoping to see that they’re competing hard for it,” Williams said. “So we have a number of guys that have that opportunity, and I want them to have that in mind. I want them to relish the opportunity and prepare themselves to compete hard in spring for it. Looking at nothing in particular other than looking to go to New York with our 25 best.”

It’s important that people not get too hung up on statistics in spring training. A pitcher might have a lofty ERA, for example, but that doesn’t take into account the level of the competition he was facing on any given day, any particular things he was trying to work on in an outing (i.e. throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes or working a fastball in to left-handed hitters) or other outside factors.

“I want them to be aggressive in the strike zone, be able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes, of course, and look at how they hold runners and how they manage the game themselves,” Williams said. “Results are results, and we can’t evaluate off of that, but how they go about their business is important to me.”

Williams has praised the work the 25-year-old Jordan has put in so far this spring, but what does the skipper want to see from the right-hander now that he’s facing real hitters?

“His fastball is good, he runs it in there as hard as anybody,” Williams said. “But to me, it’s command of his changeup, is important today. Right now, first time out, breaking balls are breaking balls. Some of them work and some of them don’t right now. But to command the heater and changeup is important for him today. So just hope he doesn’t get too amped up and goes out there and does his work. I think he’ll be fine.”

Want another example of how meticulously Williams prepares for games? He and his staff have already practiced where they’re going to position themselves in the dugout during games.

The guy has it all mapped out ahead of time, all right.

“We’ve gone over that already,” Williams said. “It’s been a dry run, but we’ve sat in the conference room and talked about spots in the dugout for viewing of the outfielders and the infielders and who’s gonna move them and how it’s gonna work and what the signals are and what everything means. We’ve done that.”

Matt LeCroy, the Nats’ new bullpen coach, asked Williams recently whether he’s going to be a dugout pacer.

“I said, ‘I don’t know!’ ” Williams said with a laugh. “We’ll have to find that out. That’s one thing I don’t know.”

Williams said that as a player, he used to sit at the far end of the dugout, as far away from the manager as he could.

“But I can’t do that anymore,” he said.

Williams announced that Doug Fister will be his starter for Sunday’s game against the Marlins. That game will be aired live on MASN. As I’d mentioned previously, Jordan Zimmermann will get the start tomorrow against the Braves.

Don’t expect to see Ohlendorf or fellow right-hander Tyler Clippard pitch in any of these first three spring games; those two are throwing their first live batting practice sessions of spring today and will get two days off before being ready to possibly appear in Grapefruit League games.

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