With expanded rosters, Williams not afraid to play the match-ups

The team goal is always most important in professional sports. Personal accomplishments are cool and all, but at the end of the day, players will tell you that batting titles, Gold Gloves and other individual achievements don't mean nearly as much if the team hasn't had success.

Professional athletes are still proud, competitive people, however. They want to be put in situations where they can help the team and pull their share of the weight.

But now that we're in the final stages of the regular season and the games are more significant, we're starting to see a slightly different type of managing from Matt Williams. And that's affected how some regulars are being used.

A large part of that is because rosters have expanded and Williams has more players on his bench and in his bullpen. He can manage for a single run by going with various pinch-hitters, can call upon a speedy pinch-runner or can play the match-ups with his relievers more frequently than he would have when he only had 25 players at his disposal.

And that's what Williams has done recently.

Last night, Williams turned to his bench in the bottom of the seventh, with Wilson Ramos on third and one out. He called on Jeff Kobernus, who can absolutely fly, to pinch-run for Ramos, and Kobernus ended up crossing the plate with the eventual game-winning run on Anthony Rendon's RBI fielder's choice.

That meant Jose Lobaton ended up behind the plate to finish off the game and Ramos wasn't in there to catch the final two innings. The competitor in Ramos wanted to stay in, but he understands the situation the Nats are in here in September with each game meaning so much.

"It's hard for me," Ramos said. "I get a little bit mad to me, because I want to finish my game. But it's baseball. We have to play together. This is one team, and we have to play together and try to win. I understand and I respect the decision of my manager."

clippard-back-pitching-white-sidebar.jpgSame goes for Tyler Clippard, who exited the game in the eighth inning with two runners on and two outs and the Nats leading by two. Williams pulled out all the stops in the eighth, going to Matt Thornton to face Freddie Freeman, both because of the lefty-lefty matchup and because Freeman is 5-for-14 with a homer off Clippard in his career.

You almost never see Williams pull Clippard in the middle of an inning if he hasn't surrendered the lead, but this was one of those rare cases. And like Ramos, Clippard wasn't initially thrilled with the decision.

"The eighth inning's my inning," Clippard said. "Yeah, I was hot, but I don't think they have a problem with me feeling that way. Obviously, I want the ball. And they know that. Matt's got to make tough decisions, and that's the decision he made.

"We've got to put our personal stuff aside, especially this late in the season, and just try to get wins. As players, we've just got to do our job when we can and if he takes the ball from us, he takes the ball from us. I don't think he has any problem with the way I was throwing the ball. I mean, he shouldn't. But it is what it is."

In September, in the midst of a pennant race, everyone wants to contribute. Each of the Nationals wants to play their part in a big win over a division rival. But Williams will continue to pull the strings as he sees fit, and recently, that means not being afraid to use his extended roster to play the match-ups and give his players the best chance to succeed.

And in the big picture, his players understand that.

"I'm sure Clip isn't happy that he got taken out in the eighth without giving up a lead," said Craig Stammen, who came on after Thornton and retired the final batter in the eighth. "But the way (Williams) managed is the way he's managed the last 10 or 15 games. We just gotta be ready for it in the bullpen. Our job is to do what the manager says and adapt to how he's going to manage. That's what we're trying to do right now."

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