WASHINGTON (AP) – When he was earning Gold Gloves and making All-Star appearances and winning a World Series as a player, new Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams certainly made an impression on Jayson Werth.
“The roughneck that played third base for all those years,” is the way the outfielder put it Friday.
Now that Williams has his first chance to run a team, he wants to combine the way he played the game with modern elements of the game such as advanced scouting to aid fielders and hitters.
“Old school is old school, and that’s great,” Williams said after being formally introduced as Washington’s skipper at a news conference, “but if you don’t get along with the times, bro, you better just step aside.”
He will retain most of predecessor Davey Johnson’s staff, including bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty and hitting coach Rick Schu. Matt LeCroy, a former catcher for the Nationals, replaces Jim Lett as bullpen coach, and Mark Weidemaier is being hired as a seventh coach, in charge of defensive positioning.
Weidemaier was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where Williams was the third-base coach the last three seasons _ and an aggressive one, at that. He indicated the Nationals will follow that style.
In 2011, the Diamondbacks made the most outs on the basepaths in the majors; over the past three years, the team was second in that category, according to STATS.
Not only did Williams make no apologies for that sort of approach, he bragged about it.
“A couple of years ago, I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate, which is good, I think. I think it’s good. Now the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I’ve heard those fans from time to time,” Williams said. “But I think that if you apply pressure, you have the advantage.”
He expects to use that approach in various ways.
“I will be aggressive. My natural tendency is to go. … I want to steal second base. I want to hit-and-run. I want to go first-to-third. Those are important to me,” Williams said. “I think we’ve seen that if we can score that extra run, we can be really special. So aggressiveness is key.”
Said shortstop Ian Desmond, who sat in the front row at Friday’s news conference, along with Knorr, Werth and pitcher Tanner Roark: “I’m intrigued by all the things he is saying.”
Williams takes over a club that, burdened by expectations, got off to a poor start this past season and finished 86-76, 10 games behind Atlanta in the NL East and out of the playoffs. So much for lame-duck manager Johnson’s “World Series or bust proclamation,” a year after the Nationals led the majors with 98 wins.
“We feel that we’ve got the right man at the right time here,” general manager Mike Rizzo said.
Williams believes Washington does not need to change a whole lot to get to the top of the sport.
“I can’t say anything needs to be fixed. What I can say is that there are some things we can refine,” he said. “I think we can play a little bit smarter baseball. I think we can use the tools that are given to us a little better.”
NOTES: Rizzo said RHP Stephen Strasburg, OF Bryce Harper and 1B Adam LaRoche “all should be ready by spring training” following surgery last week. Strasburg had bone chips removed from his right elbow, and Rizzo said that problem was discovered “right after the season” when the pitcher was given an MRI exam. … Williams on Harper: “He plays the game the way it should be played. He is all out, every day, all the time, every game. He’s paid for it by getting injured and running into walls. … Now, can we be a little smarter sometimes? Sure. And not necessarily run into that wall? Of course. But man, the kid’s 21 years old. Let him go. This is a stallion. This is a guy that is ready to just explode.”
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