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Williams: Nats can improve 'D,' offensive efficiency

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Matt Williams has been on the job for over a month, and already he seems comfortable in his new surroundings.

Williams fits in perfectly in team meetings. He has had sessions with the team's scouts, analytical people and coaching staff on how to improve the team. It's obvious to general manager Mike Rizzo that Williams is a good fit with the organization.

"Matt has really been immersed … with the guys. He is a baseball guy," Rizzo said. "We have a baseball shop, so he fits in perfectly. He seems to be extremely comfortable in the room. He makes his opinions known. … He'll take a step back and listen, and we formulate the answers accordingly."

Spring Training is two months away, and Williams already is putting together a schedule for his players.

"We're talking about who's going to be there, certainly the players that potentially could be there … and how we work through Spring Training to get them prepared for Opening Day. It's been fun," Williams said. "[We've been holding] weekly conference calls with the coaching staff, getting everybody's thoughts on all the players, what we can and can't do differently, and what we can do to win. It's been fun."

Williams is also getting his input from his players. He already has had talks with Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. For example, Williams spent an hour at Werth's house in the D.C. area. What did Williams learn?

"They're … disappointed in what happened last year. They want to make amends for that. They want to make sure that doesn't happen again. And that's the players talking, which is great," Williams said. "So you sit there as the manager, man, these guys are on it. They're ready to go. They are itching to get back and start and all of those things. We're going to have to do things right next year. … But they're looking to get back, which is a really good sign."

This past season, the Nationals -- preseason favorites to win the National League East for the second straight year -- finished 10 games behind the Braves and didn't make the playoffs. It didn't take Williams long to figure out what the Nats need to do to get better in 2014.

"One, we have to be better than 13th in the league in defense," Williams said. "We have the ability to be better than that, much better than that. … There's a lot of factors that go into that, of course, but it's something that we want to put an emphasis on. We want to get to [Spring Training] and say, 'Here's the plan, let's try to go execute that plan.'

"Offensive efficiency has been talked about a million times, but it's true. [Hitting coach] Rick Schu is very in tune with that and he's excited to get back to Spring Training. He had half a year with these guys, and they made great improvement. But he's excited about that prospect, and scoring some more runs."

Rizzo already gave Williams an improved pitching staff by acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Tigers. Fister is expected to be the fourth starter in the rotation. Fister, 29, went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA for Detroit last season, striking out 159 and walking 44 in 208 2/3 innings.

Williams believes that Fister is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.

"You know, I think if you look at his numbers, they stack with anybody, they really do -- top 10, 15 in baseball," Williams said. "And we're glad to have him. He pounds the strike zone, he induces a lot of ground balls, which leads to our defensive preparation."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
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