Results tagged ‘ Arizona Diamondbacks ’

Getting to Know Matt Williams

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by Noah Frank

When the Nationals arrived in Phoenix at the end of September for their final series of the 2013 season, already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the focus among the press corps had shifted. It was Davey Johnson’s final series as Nationals Manager, and both he and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo recapped the season while looking ahead to 2014.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, and new Manager Matt Williams shared a smile during Williams' introductory press conference.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, and new Manager Matt Williams shared a smile during Williams’ introductory press conference.

At the same time, in the other dugout, Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson fielded questions about his third base coach, Matt Williams, who was one of the men rumored as a possible candidate for the Nationals’ impending vacancy.

“I think he’d be great,” Gibson said. “He was obviously a good player. We’ve worked closely together since I’ve been a manager. He’s got a good mind for it.”

Gibson has managed the Arizona Diamondbacks the past three-and-a-half seasons, leading them to the 2011 NL West title. Williams was at Gibson’s side throughout his tenure in the desert, moving from first base coach to third base coach upon Gibson’s ascension to the managerial role.

“We’re similar,” Gibson continued. “He’s a fierce competitor. He understands the game. We break it down. He’s a tireless worker and believes in heavy preparation. Never gives in.”

Gibson also noted Williams’ success as a manager in the Arizona Fall League, a training ground for managers as well as players. Williams led the Salt River Rafters to a 17-13 mark in 2012, strong enough for the East Division title. Those Nationals fans that pay attention to the AFL may remember that Washington prospects – including Brian Goodwin, Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole – played on that Salt River squad. That managing experience and first-hand knowledge of players within the organization, along with his shared history with Rizzo in Arizona, no doubt helped Williams’ candidacy.

*          *          * 

There is another side to Williams, though, one which I was able to witness in person as he spoke at a Minor League hot stove dinner hosted by the Fresno Grizzlies (the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate) in February of 2011. Williams was set to appear as the guest of honor, alongside fellow Giants legend Will Clark, following San Francisco’s first-ever World Series title. But Clark was held up by bad weather, and Williams instead shared the stage that night with Sergio Romo – then a young reliever who’d not yet ascended to the Giants’ closer role.

The two entertained the crowd throughout the evening, leading into the live auction, benefiting the Fresno Grizzlies Community Fund.

Following the press conference, Williams answered additional questions in the media huddle.

Following the press conference, Williams answered additional questions in the media huddle.

That auction culminated with a feverish bidding war over the grand prize: a weekend trip to see the Giants in Spring Training. When the auctioneer had reached a tipping point, and one bidder could go no further, Williams unexpectedly stood up and politely interrupted him, asking if he could speak for a moment. He asked the gentleman who had been outbid if he would still be willing to pay for the package at the price he had last offered. When assured that he was, Williams then turned to the dinner organizers to see if two such grand prizes could be procured. When it was determined that they could, Williams turned back to the two bidders to see if each would be agreeable purchasing their respective packages.

The maneuver paid off. Thanks to his ability to think on his feet, Williams helped secure double the donation for the Community Fund.

I relate this story not to suggest anything about Williams’ ability to think on his feet as the next manager of the Nationals. Rather, it underscores his presence of mind to help a good cause, revealing the human side of a man taking on a role where that can all too often be lost.

*          *          *

On the final day of this past Nationals season, after saying my goodbyes and offering well-wishes in the clubhouse following the game, I shuffled out to the elevators to the players’ parking lot at Chase Field. As I stepped through the metal doors, thoughts of another season of baseball the last thing on my mind, one other familiar person stood in front of me, ready to leave the park.

And so, we silently rode the elevator together – Williams and I – before departing on our own paths to Washington.

Nationals Name Matt Williams Manager

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals named Matt Williams as the team’s field manager on Thursday, agreeing to terms on a multi-year contract with the five-time All-Star and former Arizona Diamondbacks coach. President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

The agreement culminates a thorough process by the Nationals to find a successor to Davey Johnson, whose tenure as the team’s manager came to an end after 2 1/2 seasons.

MW_photo_darker“I am thrilled to welcome Matt to our organization and am confident he is the best choice to lead the Nationals at this time,” Rizzo said. “He is exceptionally prepared for the task. Matt came into the interview process already possessing an extensive knowledge of our organization: our roster, our Minor League system – and our fan base.

“He has genuinely creative, unique ideas on how to increase performance, and on cultivating leadership and team unity.”

Williams, 47, comes to the Nationals after four years on the Diamondbacks’ coaching staff, the last three as their third base coach. A decorated player during his 17-year career, Williams becomes the organization’s fifth manager since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005.

“Matt has a wealth of knowledge and experience as a former player and coach,” said Theodore N. Lerner, Managing Principal Owner of the Nationals. “But what most impresses us is his ability to understand and ably communicate situations and strategies in a disciplined, forthright manner. We think he is the right leader for a Washington Nationals team ready to compete for a World Series championship.”

Williams is a rookie Major League manager, but Rizzo’s relationship with him dates back more than 10 years, to their time together in the Diamondbacks organization – and this is a role in which he long thought Williams could thrive.

“I saw first-hand the leadership qualities he possessed as a player, on the field and in the clubhouse,” said Rizzo, who was a part of the Diamondbacks front office for seven years before joining the Nationals in 2006. “He’s been someone on my radar as a potential manager for years.

“Matt was a great player, but he also understands just how much hard work goes into becoming a great player. In the second phase of his baseball life, he has channeled the intensity he had as a player into becoming an intellectual coach with a calm, confident demeanor.”

Known for his hard-nosed, no-nonsense style as a player, Williams was a career .268 hitter with an .317 on-base percentage, .489 slugging percentage and .805 OPS in 1,866 games. He totaled 378 home runs, including six seasons with 30-plus home runs. Williams earned four Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards as a third baseman.

“I think it’s great,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said of the hire. “He’s a younger guy who was a good player and knows the game. I’m looking forward to getting to know him a little bit… I don’t think we were too far away from where we needed to be, and I think we’re all looking forward to next year.”

A former first-round draft pick, Williams appeared in the top 10 in the Most Valuable Player voting four times in his career, finishing as high as second in 1994, when he clubbed 43 home runs and drove in 96 runs for the San Francisco Giants in the strike-shortened season.

As a player, Williams was no stranger to the postseason. He played on six playoff teams and appeared in the World Series with the Giants (1989), Indians (1997) and Diamondbacks (2001), winning a World Series ring in Arizona. He is the only player in baseball history to hit at least one World Series home run for three different teams.

After retiring from playing in 2003, Williams dabbled in broadcasting for a few years, serving as a color analyst on select Diamondbacks broadcasts from 2005–09, and co-hosting the weekend pregame show for the Diamondbacks with his wife, Erika, in 2007. He joined the Diamondbacks as a first base coach in 2010.

In addition to his coaching duties with the Diamondbacks, Williams managed in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, leading the Salt River Rafters – which included several of the Nationals’ top prospects – to the AFL Championship Game.

What to Watch for: 9.29.13

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Washington Nationals (86-75) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (80-81)

RHP Tanner Roark (7-1, 1.74) vs. LHP Wade Miley (10-10, 3.63) 

The visiting clubhouse at Chase Field was light and boisterous on Sunday, the final day of the 2013 regular season. A half-dozen regular starters, none of whom were penciled into the lineup for the season finale, took in breakfast while they absorbed the first slate of NFL games on the RedZone channel. Hoots and hollers sprung up from the back rooms, where a season-long challenge was determined with a final weigh-in. And for the last time, Davey Johnson huddled with the media in his office, in uniform for one final game.

In typical Davey fashion, he refused to let the moment become too sentimental.

“It’s not like I’m dying tomorrow,” he quipped, after a particularly overwrought question about what it all meant.

He did allow himself a moment of reflection, though, about his five decades in the game.

“I feel melancholy, because this is a great group of guys, a great organization, and the city that made me love baseball, with the Senators,” he said. “My life has come full circle.”

Once a bat boy for the original Nationals, Johnson helped return baseball glory to Washington by guiding the 2012 club to the first postseason in The District since 1933. But despite repeated attempts to cajole his favorite moment from the past two-and-a-half seasons, Johnson played his cards close to the vest.

“Everywhere I go, my goal is always to make the team better,” he explained, saying that he would leave the decision on Washington’s next skipper to the man who appointed him, Mike Rizzo. “Well, the last manager he hired did a good job. I hope.”

Johnson will head back to D.C., then home to Florida, where he says his golf group is already set for Wednesday. He has joked since Spring Training about his impending vacation to Bora Bora, and reiterated that he has no desire to be a Major League manager next season. But the charm of the game still pulls at him.

“When you love the game as much as I love this game, with the competition, you just enjoy it,” he said.

Johnson will return as a senior advisor to Rizzo next season, but what about other opportunities the game might afford him?

“I never say never to anything, I’m always open for new challenges,” he said. “Heck, I’ve already got a job to manage in the Florida Collegiate Summer League next summer.”

And so, just like the season itself, while Davey’s career as manager of the Nationals comes to a close, it does not really end. After all, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in about 19 weeks.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Jeff Kobernus LF

2. Anthony Rendon 2B

3. Scott Hairston RF

4. Tyler Moore 1B

5. Zach Walters SS

6. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

7. Jhonatan Solano C

8. Eury Perez CF

9. Tanner Roark RHP

FINISHING STRONG

Dating to August 9, Washington owns Major League Baseball’s best record (32-15, .680). Over the same span, Washington paces the National League in runs scored (235) and run differential (+70).

3B-SPAN

Denard Span enters the final day of the regular season leading MLB with a career-high 11 triples. No D.C.-based big leaguer has ever led MLB in triples, although 3B Howie Shanks (18 in 1921) and SS Joe Cassidy (19 in 1904) did tie for the MLB lead in three-baggers. In 2009 with the Twins, Span tied Jacoby Ellsbury for the AL lead with 10 triples.

ROAD LESS TRAVELED

The Nationals are 105-94 on the road under Davey Johnson. The corresponding .528 road win percentage in that span ranks third in MLB behind only Texas (.562) and Los Angeles (NL) (.534).

Highlights: 9.28.13

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9.28.13: Nationals 2, Diamondbacks 0

Stat of the Game: Dan Haren was in command in his final start of the season, scattering four hits over seven scoreless frames.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Another former D-Back, Chad Tracy, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo shot, his first homer since June 17.

It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano got the final three outs to record his 43rd save, second-most in the National League.

What to Watch for: 9.28.13

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Washington Nationals (85-75) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (80-80)

RHP Dan Haren (9-14, 4.87) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (5-10, 4.64)

The Nationals hit two of the three longest home runs in baseball last night, as Wilson Ramos followed Jayson Werth’s three-run blast in the fifth inning (first, 448 feet) with one of his own in the eighth (third, 423 feet). Werth’s blast matched the longest of his career, also matching Ian Desmond’s August 14 drive off Tim Lincecum for the second-longest hit by a National this season. Desmond’s Kauffman Stadium blast 11 days later checks in as the longest by a Washington batter in 2013 at 455 feet.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper LF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Chad Tracy 1B

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Dan Haren RHP

NAT WERTH

Jayson Werth is the only National Leaguer to rank in the top five in OPS (third, .935), slugging percentage (third, .535), batting average (fourth, .319) and on-base percentage (fifth, .400). At .935, Werth currently weighs in with the second-best OPS total in the Nationals nine-year history.

POWER SURGE

At the completion of play on September 1, Ryan Zimmerman was tied for 38th in the NL with 15 home runs. Zimmerman has hit 11 long balls and is currently tied for fifth in the NL with a team-leading 26 homers. Zimmerman’s 11 homers this month are the most in Major League Baseball (Hunter Pence, 10) and have established a Nationals record for the month of September. The only National to hit more home runs in single month: Alfonso Soriano – 12 in May, 2006.

20 x 5

Thanks to Ryan Zimmerman (26), Jayson Werth (25), Ian Desmond (20), Bryce Harper (20), and Adam LaRoche (20), the Nationals are one of three teams with a quintet of 20-homer bats, joining Atlanta and Toronto.

What to Watch for: 9.27.13

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Washington Nationals (84-75) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (80-79)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (7-9, 3.02) vs. LHP Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.28)

Washington opens its final series of the 2013 season Friday night in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks. While the series does not have any postseason implications, the opening matchup will pit two of the brightest young pitchers in the National League against one another as Stephen Strasburg faces off against Patrick Corbin. These two met earlier this year with each allowing two runs over 7.0 innings of work in a game that was eventually won by Arizona, 3-2 in 11 innings.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Jeff Kobernus LF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper CF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Tyler Moore LF

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

EVEN STEPHEN

Stephen Strasburg will make his career-high 30th start of the season tonight. He will also add to his career-best innings total, which sits at 176.0 entering play. Strasburg has improved upon his ERA, and WHIP thus far this year, and he needs 10 more strikeouts to match his career high (197), set last season.

SHORT LIST

Jayson Werth (.316) appears likely to become the fifth qualified National to hit .300+ in a single season, joining Dmitri Young (.320, 2007), Cristian Guzman (.316, 2008), Ryan Zimmerman (.307, 2010) and Michael Morse (.303, 2011) on the short list.

ROAD LESS TRAVELED

The Nationals are 103-94 on the road under Davey Johnson. The corresponding .523 road win percentage in that span ranks fourth in Major League Baseball behind only Texas (.562), Los Angeles NL (.534) and Detroit (.532).

What to Watch for: 8.27.13

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Miami Marlins (49-80) vs. Washington Nationals (65-65)

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2-4, 3.82) vs. RHP Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 2.58)

With a successful 6-4 road trip behind them, the Nationals begin a six-game homestand tonight with the first of three against Miami, whom they swept at home to open the season. Washington has won 11 of its last 16 games, and looks to continue its winning ways with its next 19 contests coming against the Marlins (49-80), New York Mets (58-71) and Philadelphia Phillies (60-71).

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Ross Ohlendorf RHP

AUGUST HEAT

After struggling offensively for much of 2013, the Nationals rank third in the National League in runs per game in the month of August. Washington has scored 108 runs in 22 games this month (4.9 per game). Only the St. Louis Cardinals (5.4 runs in 25 August contests) and Arizona Diamondbacks (5.0 in 23 games) have scored more profusely than the Nationals this month. 

GOING STREAKING

With Sunday’s four-hit effort at Kauffman Stadium, Denard Span has hit safely in nine straight games, at a .400 clip (16-for-40) with two walks, a double, two triples, a homer, five runs and four RBI. Span is in search of his first double-digit hit streak as a member of the Nationals. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper is 13-for-33 (.394) with six walks, five doubles, a homer, six runs scored and six RBI during his current eight-game hit streak. Harper has yet to register a double-digit hit streak at a big leaguer.

GOOD WOOD

The Nationals are 5-1 and have scored at least four runs in each of their last six games, during which they are batting .314 (72-for-229) with 28 walks, 14 doubles, two triples, and nine home runs, all of which have yielded a .387 on-base percentage, a .511 slugging percentage and an .898 OPS. Washington has also gone (.316, 18-for-57) with runners in scoring position in the same six-game span.

Highlights: 6.27.13

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6.27.13 – Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 2 (11 innings)

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond blasted his 13th home run – his 10th which gave the Nationals the lead – with a two-run shot in the fourth inning.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Stephen Strasburg allowed just two runs over seven frames for his second straight quality start and 10th this season.

It Was Over When: The Diamondbacks pushed ahead with a run in the 11th and the Nationals were unable to match it.

Video Bonus Feature: Bryce Harper’s rehab start with Harrisburg vs. Bowie

What to Watch for: 6.27.13

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Arizona Diamondbacks (41-36) vs. Washington Nationals (39-38)

LHP Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.28) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (4-6, 2.40) 

After getting another steady performance out of National League wins leader Jordan Zimmermann in last night’s 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks, the Nationals look for their first series sweep since blanking the Chicago White Sox back in April. Stephen Strasburg, whose current batting average against of .208 is a career best, will take the mound for the Nats tonight.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Solano C

9. Strasburg RHP

ZIMMERMANN WINS 13TH STRAIGHT D.C. DECISION

Jordan Zimmermann earned the win, his 13th straight positive home decision, as he became the National League’s first 11-game winner. After allowing two D-Backs runs in the first, Jordan’s final 6.0 innings of work included five 1-2-3 frames. With the 3-2 victory, Washington is now an NL-best 15-9 in one-run games.

ST. ANTHONY

In 18 games since being recalled by the Nationals on June 4, Anthony Rendon is 29-for-74 (.392) with three walks, nine doubles, a homer (game-winning blast in the 9th, June 15 at Cleveland) and 10 runs scored. With 35 hits in 99 career at-bats, Rendon has matched a franchise mark for most hits registered within a player’s first 100 major-league at-bats. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rendon has matched Coco Laboy’s franchise mark (35-for-100), which he set with the inaugural-season 1969 Expos. Rendon can claim the record with a hit in his next at-bat.

DOWN ON THE FARM

On Wednesday, Harrisburg right-hander Taylor Jordan was selected to participate in MLB’s 15th Futures Game on Sunday, July 14 at Citi Field. In 15 combined games/14 starts for Double-A Harrisburg and Single-A Potomac this season, Jordan is 9-1 with a 1.00 ERA (10 ER/90.1 IP) thanks to an ability to keep the ball in the yard (one homer allowed this season), a strong strikeout rate (7.2 per 9.0 innings) and a stingy walk rate (1.5 per 9.0 innings).

Highlights: 6.26.13

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6.26.13 – Nationals 3, Diamondbacks 2

Stat of the Game: Jordan Zimmermann won his National League-leading 11th game of the season with seven strong innings.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Anthony Rendon collected three more hits, raising his average to .354 for the season.

It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano stranded a pair of runners in the ninth for his second save in as many nights and 21st on the season.

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