Because he’s a first-year major league manager, every move Matt Williams makes will be carefully scrutinized.
Williams’ decision to change his opening day lineup - in part because of the injury to catcher Wilson Ramos, but not entirely - for Wednesday’s game against right-hander Bartolo Colon and the Mets drew some curious stares when it was announced.
But Williams said hitting Bryce Harper sixth - the lowest the young slugger has hit since batting seventh in the first four games of his major league career - was rooted in serious contemplation about what’s best for Harper and how best to configure the batting order to benefit the Nationals.
“I think it takes a little bit of pressure off of Bryce,” Williams explained while meeting with reporters at Citi Field. “It allows him to use his legs, and I think that’s important. ... He’s a five-tool guy, so he can beat that team in many, many ways. We want to give him the opportunity to do that.”
Williams wants to make sure he can both utilize Harper’s speed and not handicap the sluggers in the middle of the lineup.
“From a manager’s perspective, you say, ‘If I hit him second or third in front of Jayson (Werth) and (Ryan Zimmerman), do I really want him trying to steal second when we’re one swing away from a two-run homer or a three-run homer?’ That’s the logic,” Williams said. “Most of all, I want him to be free to play and not have those boundaries on him. I think for me, over the long run, he will drive in big runs for us.”
And fans haven’t seen the last of the opening day lineup, that had Harper slotted behind both Zimmerman and Werth.
“Hopefully, we look at the end of the year and (Harper’s) got a whole bunch of RBIs from that spot. But he’s not going to hit there every day.,” Williams said.
Williams added that Harper was showing no signs of any problems from his collision Monday with Mets second baseman Eric Young Jr. Harper passed two concussion tests on opening day - one during the game, the other after - but Williams said he was being monitored during pregame workouts to make sure there were no aftereffects.
Note: Williams said right-hander Doug Fister, on the 15-day disabled list with a right lat strain, would throw from 60 feet Thursday. That would be Fister’s first activity after being shut down for five days, and the first progression in his rehab.