Manager talks about challenges, excitement of first season on job
In his first year with the Nationals, Matt Williams has proved to be an aggressive manager. He is not afraid to play small ball -- hit and run or bunt -- to win a game. Williams will even have one of his sluggers like Jayson Werth swing at a 3-0 pitch to get the run across.
Things seem to be working out for Williams -- the Nationals were in second place with a 17-14 record, only a half-game behind the Braves entering Monday's action.
MLB.com caught up with Williams recently to talk about the Nationals.
MLB.com: You have been a Major League manager since Nov. 1. What are the likes and dislikes about the job?
Matt Williams: They are all likes. There have been some interesting challenges that you have to adjust to. But it's all part of the job. It's all part of the whole package of trying to be a manager and trying to do what you need to do.
I have some really good experience of managing the bullpen, some injuries, stuff that you don't count on. So that is in-the-fire stuff that you can't anticipate. That's been good. That's been a challenge. But overall, it has been enjoyable. It's fun to be a part of. I rely on my coaches' input, making a plan. Through all those challenges, we've done pretty well at staying even keel and being in the position we are in.
MLB.com: When you are facing those challenges, do you ever ask yourself, "What would Roger Craig do?" or "What would Dusty Baker do?"
Williams: Yeah, sure. With every different scenario that comes up, you try to go back to your experiences as a player and say, "How would they handle this?" "How would they go about trying to make the right decision?" That's all part of it because you learn from those guys, you take something from those guys.
MLB.com: Do you hear from Craig and Baker?
Williams: Yeah. I haven't heard from Roger personally, but he sent a message through somebody else. I certainly talk to Bake. I try to understand how they go about doing it. What would Buck Showalter do? What would Bob Brenly do? In that regard, even Bob Melvin. He wasn't a manager (when I played), but he was our bench coach and he is a guy I respect a lot. You lean on those experiences all the time.
MLB.com: Some of those challenges have been injuries. How frustrating has that been for you?
Williams: It's frustrating when you lose three of your main guys. You set out the year and get out of Spring Training with this grand plan, realizing that it never goes as planned. It simply doesn't.
In the first series, you lose your catcher (Wilson Ramos) and then, of course, Ryan Zimmerman's injury and then, of course, Bryce Harper's injury. Not having Doug Fister out of Spring Training (hurt). So you have to guard against it. Players don't think about that. They think about winning today's game. I try to mix and match the lineup … but that's part of the job. It's never going to be the way you want it. You are not going to have everybody all the time for the whole season anyway. So that is part of the adjustment process for me and for our team -- going through 162 games. It's not going to work the way you want it to work all the time.
MLB.com: You will be getting Ramos and Fister back soon. Tell me how great that feels to have them back? It will really strengthen your team.
Williams: It just sets things into alignment. Wilson is a big part of it, so is Doug. For that matter, so is Scott Hairston. I commend the guys for playing the way they have played, knowing that we are short with the guys we had planned.
Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon have done a fantastic job, but Wilson is a big part of this club. So you want to get those guys back and get them back in the fold. You understand that when they come back, there may be an adjustment process for them. Sure, you want all your guys on the field and so they can give you the best chance to win every day.
MLB.com: One of the players lost to injury was Harper. How much will he be missed?
Williams: Harper is a fantastic player with a huge upside. He is going to be wonderful for a lot of years. To lose him, that's an injury that you don't know the time frame on. He is a big part of our team, but we have to step up. We may have to do things a little differently. It may be important to move that runner over, make sure that we do things correctly because you don't have the firepower that you would have with Harper. But we can't worry about it now. It's over and done with. … It is what it is.
MLB.com: Before the injury, how do you think Harper was doing on the field?
Williams: I think he was doing fine. We expect Bryce not to be the MVP. We have to understand that he is 21. He has a long way to go to be the player that he wants to be and he knows that. He has admitted that. He told me, "I'm a good player, but I know I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to do." I agree with him.
He is the youngest player in the Major Leagues and he's good. He is willing to learn and he is willing to do the work to get better. He wants to be great. So, he is doing fine. He has some early struggles, but that sometimes how things happen. In April of 2013, he was hot. There is nothing to be said about it but starting off a little slow. We tried to get him some spots, move around a little bit to get comfortable. I thought he started hitting, started feeling good.
MLB.com: You took some criticism from the national writers for the way you handled Harper this year. What is your reaction to it?
"We still have to play well and we have to do things right. … But the capability is there. This team can go far. This team can be really competitive on an everyday basis."
-- Nats manager Matt Williams
Williams: You know I haven't reacted and I don't think I'm going to. I felt I needed to do the appropriate thing. It wasn't about Bryce. It was about the way we were playing at the time. I had a meeting with the team and I told them the next one that does not run and touch first base, he will be taken out of the game. So it wasn't about Bryce. He just happened to be the one. It could have been Jayson, it could have been Desi (Ian Desmond), it could have been Roche (Adam LaRoche), it could have been anybody.
(Harper) just didn't do it. I told the team I was going to do this. I was expected to do it on behalf of our team and our organization. If I take criticism for that, it's perfectly fine because we collectively are here to win games. Bryce knew and I knew and everybody else knew that it was going to blow up. He handled it perfectly. Criticism is part of the job, second-guessing is part of the job. I understand that. But my job is to hopefully make the best decision I can for our team and organization. Everybody has a different opinion.
MLB.com: I get a feeling from you that the Nationals can go far in the postseason this year.
Williams: Sure. I think we have to play well. I feel like this is a really good team. My opinion hasn't changed since Day One when they hired me. We have the capability. It doesn't mean that it will translate every day. We still have to play well and we have to do things right. … But the capability is there. This team can go far. This team can be really competitive on an everyday basis.
MLB.com: In what areas would you like to see this team improve?
Williams: The only thing is, our defense isn't that good. We want to improve on that on an everyday basis. I think over the last couple of weeks, we have done a better job running the bases. We had a couple of plays in Houston where we went from first to third on balls where we could have easily stayed. So those two areas are keys for us. Our situational hitting can always get better. From a bullpen standpoint, you just can't walk people so that can get better. For the most part, it has been OK.
MLB.com: You said if the Nationals win 10 games in a row, you are going to do your Babe Ruth impersonation in the batting cage like you did when you were with the Giants. How much do you look forward to doing that again?
Williams: I would love to do it. That means we would win 10 in a row. I would gladly embarrass myself in front of the nation or anyone that wants to watch. I did it before just to do it. If anybody else sees this impersonation, it would mean we have won 10 in a row and that's a very good thing for our club and our organization.