Hearing from Williams after Nats’ 8-1 win

VIERA, Fla. - Reporters didn’t get a chance to meet with Matt Williams pregame today, but we did chat with the Nationals skipper following today’s 8-1 win over the Tigers.

Here are some topics covered in that session, covering everything from Stephen Strasburg to Bryce Harper to Zach Walters:

On if he needs to see anything else from Strasburg before opening day: “No, I think he’s right on track. He pitched around an early misplay, which is great. And certainly Denard (Span) is going to make that play 99.9 out of 100 times. Not that it’s good for any of our pitchers to have to pitch around that, but he had to do that early. So that’s a good thing. And he pitched well. Just a command of all of his pitches.”

On Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, who have allowed five total runs in 35 2/3 spring innings: “Their pitching is one thing. But I’m encouraged that both guys that were asked to sacrifice bunt got the bunt down. That’s encouraging. Because that’s a big part of our team. Their pitching speaks for itself. They’ve competed, they’ve thrown strikes. They’ve done a real good job of holding baserunners, which was important to us and continues to be important to us. So all in all, really good.”

On what he thought of Ryan Mattheus in his spring debut: “He challenged. That’s what he does: Challenges hitters. A couple of balls, they squared up, but he’s not going to deter from how he goes about it, regardless of whether that ball drops or not. But he was good. He threw strikes, was aggressive. I liked it.”

On if Bryce Harper (5-for-30 this spring) is trying to do too much right now: “Yeah, he’s just a little hippy right now. His front hip is leaking a little bit. Again, we’ve faced some pretty darn good pitching the last 3-4 days, too. And it doesn’t get any easier tomorrow. That being said, he’s just a little jumpy right now. That’s typical spring training stuff when you start feeling good. I’m encouraged with Bryce that he’s felt good all spring, because that was a question mark coming in. So that’s where I’m encouraged. I’m not worried about his swing or about him playing defense. As long as he feels good, those numbers will be there and he will continue to produce.”

On if he’s still happy with Danny Espinosa’s offensive approach: “Fantastic. He’s eager to play every day and it’s really hard to get him out of a ballgame, which is good. It’s a very good trait to have. Numbers are misleading both ways in spring training. I’m encouraged by the way he’s going about it.”

On Espinosa’s approach this spring compared to what he saw of him last year: “It’s hard for me to say because I got a snippet last year in those six games we played. I’m pleased with it. I’m pleased with his approach. I’m pleased with his work ethic every day and the way he’s going about his approach within the game. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you swing and miss. But as long as he’s going about it the right way, I think he’ll be just fine.”

On what he told Zach Walters after informing the infielder he was being optioned today: “I just told him that he’s very close, very close. I encouraged him to make sure on an everyday basis that he leaves his at-bats in the dugout when he goes to the field. That’s important for a young player. It’s hard to do, because we’re all human. But he’s on the verge of being a very good, everyday big leaguer. So I was encouraged by his spring. I was encouraged by the way he competed. But we say all these things about Zach, about his power, about his running and all that. What will keep him in the big leagues is his ability to play defense. So that was a point of emphasis this morning. He needs to concentrate on that, which he will. And once he can master that art of it, he’s going to have a long career. But he played really well.”

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