Putting the final touches on spring training (game canceled)

The Nationals might have left Florida, but they apparently can’t shake the early-spring drizzle that we got a handful of times down south during spring training.

Today’s 2 p.m. exhibition game against the Tigers, scheduled to be the Nats’ final tune-up before opening day, is in jeopardy due to the weather conditions. At last check of the forecast for today, they’re calling for anywhere from a 60-90 percent chance of rain throughout the afternoon, which sure doesn’t bode well for baseball.

The Nats and Tigers would love to play today, allowing their pitchers who are scheduled to throw to get in their work before the games start to matter, and giving their position players one final chance to see live pitching before opening day. But given that it’s just an exhibition game, don’t expect the teams to push it and try to play if the conditions are a bit sloppy. The last thing either side wants is a player getting hurt on a wet field during a meaningless game two days before opening day.

My colleague Byron Kerr and I will be at the ribbon-cutting for the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy this morning and then at Nats Park later on, and will keep you posted on all the latest on the exhibition game, Doug Fister’s status, and much more.

If the Nats do play the exhibition today, it will mark the final spring training game in manager Matt Williams’ first year as skipper. (Yes, the exhibition is still technically considered a spring training game.)

Williams and defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier spent hours upon hours planning out how they wanted to run spring training this year. They had a detailed schedule mapped out for each day of spring, consisting of meetings with the team every morning to discuss the plans for the day and what the coaches wanted to see on the fields. They put the players through focused drills, moved from one station to another at a quick pace and worked on fundamentals day after day.

Asked the other day in Port St. Lucie how he felt his first spring as a big league manager went, Williams shrugged.

“I hope it went well,” Williams said. “I don’t have anything to judge it on. But all the reports are that guys were OK with it, that we got our work done, that everything seems to be fine. I’m sure there will be adjustments, but I thought it was OK.”

One thing that Williams changed this spring was having his players take shuttles over from the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium to the minor league fields, saving them the 8-10 minute walk that it would take to get over there and allowing that time to be used more efficiently. That was a hit with players, as were the morning meetings, which allowed coaches to outline things like bunt plays and cutoffs on a projection screen, so that when the players took the field in the morning, they knew exactly what the coaches wanted them to work on.

But there are already tweaks to the spring schedule that Williams has mapped out in his mind as he looks down the road towards next year.

“I think I would concentrate even more on, especially early on, having guys stay back (in Viera to get work in),” Williams said. “The minor league situation is such that once they start playing games, we can really get a lot of work in. And they’re so accommodating for us to come over and insert guys in lineups and stuff like that. You can get a lot accomplished without having to do a lot. So that’s something I think we’ll look at.”

There was certainly a bit more structure this spring than in years past, although it’s not as if former manager Davey Johnson just let his guys roll into the clubhouse at 1 p.m. and choose their own schedule. Williams and Weidemaier weren’t sure how the players would react to the more mapped-out schedule, but overall, the guys seemed to take to it well.

“I think they were OK,” Williams said. “Again, we wanted to accomplish those things. And it’s going to help us win, I hope. We want to make sure we’re running the right bunt plays and moving guys over and concentrating on that and getting our DNA and all the things we want to do. It takes some time. And oftentimes, when you stand on a field, you don’t really accomplish what you want to when you stand around too much. So we wanted to try to do it beforehand. I think it worked fine. We had the ability to do it. Why not do it?”

Update: Today’s exhibition game against the Tigers has been canceled due to inclement weather. Fans with game tickets to today’s game may exchange their tickets for any remaining regular or value home game during the 2014 regular season. Tickets cannot be exchanged for the April 4 home opener against the Braves.

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