Before today’s game in San Francisco, manager Matt Williams met with the media and discussed the Nationals’ improved defense before looking ahead to the finale.
“I think guys have settled into the season a little more. It’s cold early, playing in cold weather is a factor, but I wanted to say it to you guys early and I believe it. I think it was a little bit of aberration,” Williams said to reporters in San Francisco. “There was some weird things, so that being said, they work hard and they continue to. I think they’re all just kind of comfortable and settled in.
“It helps when you make diving plays and things like that.”
Williams was referencing Ryan Zimmerman’s diving play in left field - a position in which Zimmerman is settling into quite nicely - during last night’s game. The skipper credited everyone getting more comfortable as a main reason why the Nats’ defense has done a 180 as of late.
“I just think they’re concerned about it and they take pride in it,” he said. “Nobody wants to make an error, so they work hard, and work hard at getting better, work hard at getting accustomed.”
In addition, the team has participated in voluntary workouts, getting in extra work before games.
“Generally, you find that your everyday players don’t do (voluntary workouts) as much. It’s really the extra guys that get their work done. But any time we’ve done it, generally the whole team’s been there and that’s just a credit to their work ethic and the fact that they want to be good at it, and they understand the value of it,” Williams said. “So, that’s a pleasant surprise for me and much appreciated because they work hard at it and they take pride in it.”
And it has paid off. The Nationals have won 10 of their last 12 games and are eyeing a four-game sweep at the often unfriendly AT&T Park. Another reason for the recent hot streak? The successes of the pitching staff.
Since the beginning of May, the Nats staff leads the majors in ERA (2.77). Although starter Gio Gonzalez is on the disabled list, the starters have been able to make a statement across their league.
“Doug (Fister), ball gets on the ground most of the time. (Blake) Treinen, the ball gets on the ground most of the time. You know, (Stephen Strasburg) with his secondary pitches, if he gets ahead, it’s very difficult to elevate the ball. (Jordan Zimmermann), you know, Zimm has just been pounding the zone down lately,” Williams said.
In addition to crediting his rotation, he also emphasized how its members have the final say in a game.
“It was the first quote of spring training. ‘He who holds the ball controls the game.’ ” Williams said. “So, the catcher can put down a finger and if he doesn’t like it, he just shakes. Our staff controls what they throw. ... You want your catcher and pitcher to work together but ultimately if the pitcher doesn’t like a pitch that the catchers calling, he just shakes and goes to another.”
With Wilson Ramos on the disabled list, catcher Jose Lobaton will be the backstop again after catching last night’s game.
“I talked to him after the game last night, and he feels great and he’s been working with these guys a little bit more than Sandy (Leon) because Sandy’s been down,” Williams said. “I felt good about him getting back in there today. Caught a great game last night. So, he’s back in there.”
Today’s starter Treinen is still seeking his first major league win, despite pitching to a 1.78 ERA this season. He’ll face a tough opponent in veteran Tim Hudson.
“When (Hudson’s) really good, it’s sinker down, slider down, split-change down. He works fast and throws strikes,” Williams said. “But, if he’s good, you’ll see a lot of grounders and a lot of swings over balls in the dirt, things like that. ... Good pitcher.”