VIERA, Fla. - As promised, the Nationals were at about 9:30 a.m., out on the field at Space Coast Stadium going through situational defense drills.
These drills had already been scheduled for this morning before yesterday’s five-error, sloppy performance against the Braves. But after Matt Williams saw his team kick the ball around a good bit yesterday, he was happy to put them through some defensive work today.
“Like I said, I think yesterday was an aberration,” Williams said this morning before taking the field for the drills. “We’ll just run through it. It’s part of our ramp-up process. So it gets a little quicker today. We’ll do it three more times this spring to make sure it’s second nature by the time we get to the season. It’ll be fun.”
The Nats worked on it all during this morning’s session. They covered the basic stuff like rundowns and pop-ups, and even practiced defensive rotations on wild pitches and overthrows.
And if you needed more examples of how detail-oriented Williams is, here are two more: He had his players work situations where they would add a fifth infielder when they needed to cut down a runner at home; and also shouted out specific situations, such as Ryan Howard coming up with a runner on first, causing the shortstop to move to the right side of the infield.
Toward the end of the drills, Ryan Zimmerman grabbed a first baseman’s mitt and worked on receiving some throws over at first. The Nats will continue to ease Zimmerman in at first base this spring, trying to get him more acclimated to the position so that he can eventually back up Adam LaRoche there once in a while.
“He’s taken some grounders, (worked on) footwork over there around the bag,” Williams said. “Certainly has picked balls out of the dirt as part of the natural progression. And then as we get going, we’ll get into some team fundamental stuff where he’ll go over there so he understands plays from the other side of the diamond. It’s not easy to switch, because there’s different responsibilities. But that’s part of the progression. We’ll go through all that stuff and the get him some innings over there and make sure he’s comfortable.”
There will come a time later this spring when we see Zimmerman get into games at first base, but that’s still a little ways off.
“We have to make sure he’s 100 percent comfortable over there first, get the progression of taking him through all those steps to make sure,” Williams said. “The last thing we want to do is get him over there not comfortable and get him in a situation where he could get stepped on at first base or something like that. But there may be a time during the season where we need to do that, so we need to prepare for it.”
Zimmerman is in the lineup as the DH today, with Anthony Rendon getting the start at third base. Rendon was drafted as a third baseman, so even though he started at second base for the Nats much of last season, he’s got plenty of experience at third. He’ll likely serve as the Nats’ backup third baseman behind Zimmerman this season, so Williams wants to get him reps over there this spring to make sure he has his feet under him at that spot, so to speak.
“He’s going to have to play there some during the season, if we get a chance to match up or any of that stuff,” Williams said. “So we need to get him over there. He’s accustomed to doing it, so that’s the only reason. Get him ABs, make sure he’s getting ABs. And there may be times where it’s matchup-friendly for us to put Zim at first (and Rendon at third).”
Right-hander Craig Stammen will make his spring debut today, working in relief after Doug Fister - and likely after Chris Young and Sammy Solis. Stammen will work multiple innings at a time for the Nats this season, so Williams said he’ll work to get Stammen lengthened out a bit over the next few weeks.
“Certainly toward the end of spring, looking at (getting him in) back-to-back (games), looking at an inning-plus,” Williams said. “When that will happen is unclear. It depends on his first (outing) and how he’s feeling and all those things. That’s in the plan, to get him out there one-plus at least in the spring. For now, at least, we’d like to do a clean inning, get his work in and build his arm strength and go from there. But at some point this spring, we’re going to have to do that. And it’ll come probably later during the course of it.”