Results tagged ‘ Mike Rizzo ’
On Friday, November 1, 2013, the Washington Nationals officially introduced Matt Williams as the club’s fifth manager since the team arrived in The District. The following is a transcript of the press conference featuring Williams and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo.
Thanks for coming, everybody, I’m going to keep it short and sweet. It’s an exciting, big day here in Washington Nationals land, the introduction of the Matt Williams era into Washington Nationals baseball. We are extremely pleased to have Matt at the helm. I’d like to thank the players and Randy Knorr for coming in today and showing their support. We feel like we’ve got the right man at the right time here in Washington, D.C. He’s a man that brings passion and intensity to the game, but also brings a communication style of eloquence and intelligence. We think he’s got the full package. I’ve known the man for a long time and watched him from afar for a while and then up close and personal for a while. He’s a man that – we’d like to emulate his demeanor and attitude on the field and his leadership qualities in the clubhouse. So, without further ado, our new manager, Matt Williams.
Thank you, Mike.
First and foremost, I want to express how grateful (my wife) Erika and (daughter) Madison and I are for everybody’s support in welcoming us here, it’s been quite an experience.
I’d like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Lerner and the entire Lerner family for welcoming us into their family. I spent a little bit of time with them and these people have passion for this game, passion for this city and passion for this team. They want to win as badly as anybody, and I am certainly on board with that, as I know Mike is.
It’s not often that you get players to support somebody they don’t really know. So I’d like to thank Tanner (Roark), Ian (Desmond) and Jayson (Werth) for taking time out of their day to be here to experience this with me and I look forward to working with all of them.
There’s a special guy that flew in that was also a candidate for this job. Randy Knorr took the time and got here today to be a part of this. We’re going to spend some time together, for sure. He is going to be someone that I lean on certainly in the beginning and throughout this coming season and hopefully many seasons in the future to make this a winning club. So Randy, thank you for being here, I appreciate it very much. (Randy’s) going to come out and see me next week and we’ll start going on this thing. We can’t wait to get started. Thank you all for being here. I am honored to be the Washington Nationals Manager and I’m ready to go, so thank you very much.
Matt Williams on why he is the best fit for the Nationals and what kind of manager he expects to be.
I was asked that question in the interview: why you? I think the simple answer for me is that I bring passion to the game that I love. This game has given me a lot and I need to return that. In whatever aspect of the game we find ourselves in, whether it’s offense, defense, pitching, I’m going to approach it with passion, I’m going to approach it with enthusiasm and a sense of work that I hope will make me a good manager and make us a good team.
What kind of manager will I be? I think it will be fluid. I do believe that you bring your glove every day. And I do believe that with this club, and with the incredible young men we have on this club, we have a chance to win if we can do things right. I think it’s evident. Everybody in this room and everybody that’s watching on TV or listening knows this is a very talented group of young men. We’re going to refine some things and we’re going to take those next steps that we need to take to get to where we want to go.
Mike Rizzo on the intangibles that made Matt Williams the right fit for this ballclub.
My interview process started in 1999 when I first met Matt as a player with the Diamondbacks. From afar, I really was watching how he conducted himself. He played on a talented team there in Arizona and there were a lot of veteran leaders on that team. I recognized Matt Williams as a guy that led not only by example, but led vocally and by his performance on the field. He was always prepared as a player and was always a guy that would lead by example. He was more impressed by the name on front of the jersey than on the back. I think that’s the way he approached his work. As time went on, I recognized him as the Arizona Fall League manager. Several of our players loved playing for him and I watched the way he handled pitching staffs and bullpens. And then as a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he really showed the backing he has of his players. The way they were prepared and the way that they got after it.
Matt Williams on when he first thought of managing as a possible career choice.
When I retired, I took some time off. I did the front office thing. I thought it would be nice to be in the front office, on that side of the game. If you know me, I don’t like suits very much. I didn’t like that part of it as much as I thought I would. I became a broadcaster and did some color work for TV and radio. I enjoyed that, but it still wasn’t fulfilling enough for me so I decided to get back on the field.
I was invited to Spring Training by Bob Melvin, the Diamondbacks Manager at that time, and started doing some work with the infielders and doing some work with the rest of the guys and really got the itch back. At that point, I thought, “I’ve played this game my whole life and it’s given me everything I have in my life.”
So at this point I needed to get to where I want to get to ultimately becoming a manager. At that point, I started thinking about it. It’s been an evolution. I’ve done a number of different jobs. The thing that I’ve come to conclude in this whole thing is that if you communicate and you can have a plan, then I think you’re ahead of the game. I hope to impart some of that here and help us on our way to win a championship.
Matt Williams on knowing the job was open since last year and when he started to seriously consider it.
I had a job to do as the Diamondbacks third base coach so I didn’t think about it very much. I knew there would be a possibility. Ultimately, it’s not up to me to decide. I was thankful and grateful to get the call from Mike that he wanted to talk a little baseball with me. During the season, and for the last year, it wasn’t up to me to decide if I wanted to interview or not, it was up to them.
Matt Williams on what needs fixing on this team.
What needs to be fixed? Davey Johnson is a Hall of Fame manager in my book. This is not a situation where you come in and clearly something is broken and needs to be fixed. This is unique, in that Davey decided to go in a different direction – get out of the dugout, do some other things – and the position was open. It’s not like you need to blow it up and start all over again. This is a very talented group of young men that play this game here. This is a great team on the brink of something really special. So, to be fixed? I don’t know, I can’t say anything needs to be fixed. I can say there are some things to refine. I think we can play smarter baseball, I think we can use the tools that are given to us a little better, without going into specifics. I know that one of the things that Ian told me this morning when we first met was, “I’d like to work a little bit harder.” I’m all for that man, let’s go. I think we can take all of those things and become a better baseball team. I’m here to guide that. They’re here to do it. They’re excited about doing it. So is everybody sitting in this room. I hope to be a part of that and guide that in the right direction.
Matt Williams on if he’s talked to Wilson Ramos lately, given an altercation between the two following a home run from a few years ago.
Thanks for that question, I appreciate it (laughs). There’s another guy that’s in this room who was involved in that altercation as well.
I haven’t spoken to Wilson since. But I can tell you this – on any given day, in any given city, at any given time, something like that can happen. I love that Jayson Werth stood up in the opposing dugout and yelled at me, because that means that he competes. I love the fact that Wilson Ramos was upset that a couple of their guys got hit and took exception. I love that fact. Does it mean I don’t like the man? No. That’s competition; that’s baseball; that’s the way we play the game. Just because Jayson’s yelling at me doesn’t mean he doesn’t like me. He plays for the other team. Now, I’m fortunate and I’m pleased that I’m on his team – and we’re going to have a lot of fun.
Matt Williams on if he views his lack of managerial experience as a challenge, and if so, how he plans on overcoming that.
I think there are a lot of different challenges as a manager and frankly as a bench coach, as Randy will attest. There are different things that present themselves every day. We saw it in Game 3 of the World Series ending on an obstruction play. We’ve never seen that. Those challenges, things like that in the course of the game present themselves. I don’t have 20 years of experience. I can’t claim that I do. But I do know I have a bench coach and a group of coaches that know these players and have experience and have had success. I hope to learn from them, I hope that they’ll learn from me, and I hope, collectively, we can go in the right direction here. It’s a really good team. I’m proud to be a part of it, proud to have them as fellow coaches, and I’m itching to go.
Matt Williams on if he plans to bring the whole coaching staff back.
It is our plan, with one exception. We’re going to make a change in the bullpen, and we’re going to add another coach, so we will have seven coaches. That will be Mark Weidemaier. He’s coming from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He is a defensive coordination advance coach, which I believe is really important. I believe preparation is the most important part of this game. He will do the defensive coordination and be our advance coach.
Matt Williams on how his former managers ingratiated themselves in the clubhouse, and how that experience will guide him.
It’s important to understand the player-manager dynamic. These guys go through 162 games during the regular season and 30-plus games of Spring Training. They’re training all year round in hopes that they get to the postseason and get to experience what the Cardinals and Red Sox got to experience. It’s very close to that here. It’s close. My job coming in is to make sure everybody’s prepared, and we need to make sure everybody’s healthy. It’s a new challenge – a new Spring Training, a new city, all of those things for me – but my job is to take care of these guys. I cherish that relationship. I protect these guys. I am the guy that they can come to, and hopefully Ian (Desmond) can come to me and say, “I’m having trouble with my backhand, let’s work on it.” Great, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Jayson can go, “I’m having trouble doing this. Or I’m not driving the ball like I want to.” Here’s a thought. We want to drive a run in, “OK, let’s talk about it.”
I think the fact that I played gives me a little bit of authority, or knowledge, that I’ve been there, I’ve been that guy. I’ve struck out with the bases loaded; I’ve gotten the game-winning hit. All of those things. I’m here to help them, as is our coaching staff. They’re going to play and they’re going to play well. We’re here to try to guide that and help them reach their capabilities, certainly. And eventually to be Hall of Fame players and be World Champions.
Matt Williams on what it means to have the support of Randy Knorr in attendance at today’s press conference.
As far as Randy goes, it can be a very difficult dynamic. Randy is certainly popular among the players – we’ve seen that they have given him their support during this process. I can’t claim to know them or know this team as much as Randy does, so I’m going to lean on him. And he’s been kind enough to say, “Lean on me, I believe in this franchise, I believe in this team, I believe in our chances and I want to be here.” He doesn’t have to be here. In our conversations, I trust that and I love that fact. I’m going to lean on him heavily. He knows the organization, he knows the game. He is a full-blown managerial candidate, just like all of us (who interviewed); otherwise Mike wouldn’t have interviewed him. He’s probably the biggest part of this staff in getting to know the players moving forward for me.
Matt Williams on his reputation as an aggressive third base coach in Arizona, and if he similarly envisions himself as an aggressive manager.
That’s funny, because I think a couple years ago, I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate. Which is good, I think! Now, the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I’ve heard those fans from time to time, but I think if you apply pressure, you have the advantage. That comes in many different forms. I think you can apply pressure defensively. I think if you’re in a bases loaded situation with nobody out, I think you actually can have the advantage defensively. That may be a weird way of thinking, but that’s the way I think. I will be aggressive. My natural tendency is to go. We saw that (when I was) coaching third. So I will rely on Randy to help me with that and the rest of the coaching staff to help me with that. I want to steal second base, I want to hit and run, I want to go first-to-third. Those are important to me. I think we’ve seen that if we can score that extra run, we can be really special. So yes, aggressiveness is key.
Matt Williams on the importance of defensive positioning shifts and scouting.
There’s so much information that is given to us these days and we can find it everywhere. Tendencies – this guy will throw this pitch in this count 25 percent of the time. It’s all out there for us to use as we choose to use it. The philosophy that Kirk, myself, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor and those guys in Arizona put together was, we can do all the shifts we want and play tendencies all we want, but we have to understand what our pitchers are going to throw. How are our pitchers going to attack opposing hitters and what can we do accordingly? Leading the league in fielding percentage is key. We had two guys on the field that won Gold Gloves this last year. That proof is in the pudding in that they are fantastic athletes. But we helped them be in the right spot. We helped them be in a position to make a defensive play that helped us save a run or won us a game. I think that is most important for us.
That being said, one of the reasons I wanted to bring Mark Weidemaier on board was that he’s an expert at that. He’s been an advance scout. He created our defensive advance reports with Arizona. He has scouted both leagues. He spent 175 of the 180 days of the season in a hotel room on the road. He knows what he’s doing. I think that will help us be a better team. We understand that there’s a very fine line between (averaging) 2.5 runs or 3.5 or 4.5 runs. I do understand also, that if we can cut one (run) down during some point of that game, we have a better chance of winning with the type of club we’ve got. That’s important. That’s going to be our focus as a coaching staff, and we’ll let the players know certainly that we expect that to be a focus of theirs moving forward.
Matt Williams on how he knew so much about the Nationals organization going into his interview.
I do have access to the internet (laughs). It’s out there for everybody. But I do know some of the guys because I got to manage them last year (in the Arizona Fall League).. I’m going to get a chance to hang with Randy in Arizona next week and get a little more information. I don’t know everything, but I know this team and this organization has done a fantastic job of scouting. Second, the player development side of this club probably doesn’t get enough credit. They develop these guys to be big league baseball players at the highest level, to become All-Star players. That’s important. The team being put together by Mike and Bryan (Minniti) and everybody at the big league level is phenomenal.
I do have some (first-hand) information, certainly. I was with Adam LaRoche in Arizona. I managed Anthony (Rendon), albeit him being a third baseman at the time. We’ll get a chance to go out and see Matty Skole – we had him last year in the (Arizona) Fall League – and Brian Goodwin. I haven’t seen the younger pitchers as much, but I’ll get a chance to see all of those guys and talk about all of those guys with Randy and get further in tune. There are 25 guys here at the Major League level, but there’s 250 men here that make up this club and make up this organization. We need to make sure we’re accountable for all of them moving forward.
Matt Williams on which of the managers he’s played for influenced him the most, and why.
I think I take a little bit from all of them. Dusty Baker is my mentor. He was my hitting instructor early on with San Francisco and later became the manager. I spent hours and hours in the cage with him. He taught me how to be a professional hitter and he continues to be a great friend of mine. We talk often. In that respect, I try to take from Dusty that he’s the ultimate players’ manager. He communicates so well with the players. You hear it all the time that they’d run through a wall for Dusty. That’s because he understands them and speaks to them as men on the same level. I value Jayson Werth’s opinion on something. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with this club, with these guys. They can come to me with anything and I can go to them with anything, and it’s a conversation between men.
Buck Showalter was probably the most prepared manager I’ve ever played for. Three hours watching the game and everything that leads up to the game, and then another three hours in his office with the door closed watching the game all over again and sleeping at the ballpark at night. (He was) very prepared. I don’t know if I can do that, but I have to take some of that and make sure that on any given day, I’m prepared for what we may face during the game. Again, I have fantastic coaches that I’ll be able to lean on in that regard and say, “Randy, what do you think here?” But I have to be ultimately prepared for what I may face.
I played for Bob Brenly in our championship season in Arizona. He had a really veteran-laden club with guys that knew what they were doing. Frankly, (there were) a lot of guys at the end of their careers who were just trying to make it through and win a World Championship. I learned from Bob that sometimes it’s nice to take the reins off, especially with veteran guys, and allow them to lead that clubhouse. We have some veteran players on this team that have the ability and the willingness to lead this group of men. We need to allow them to do that. (We need to) give everybody a game plan and all of those things that come with it, but allow the veterans on this team to lead. Ultimately, the younger guys will fall in line because those are their peers. Those are the guys I lean on as mentors, and as examples, and try to take a little bit from each one of them.
Matt Williams on using analytics and advanced metrics.
It’s interesting how this is all a part of the game now. It used to be that we’d go out and throw some balls against the soft toss net behind the cage, take some swings, take some grounders and get ready for the game. Spring Training was, “Hey, let’s run through these three bunt plays and we’ll call it a day, then let’s go whack some balls and make sure that we’re ready for tomorrow.” It’s gotten a little more complicated these days.
I want to use all of it, but I want to use all of it in the right way. I want to get an example of what somebody is going to throw Ian on 2-0. Not necessarily how many sliders he throws him, but what he’s going to throw him 2-0, what’s he going to throw him 3-1, so he’s got an idea of what that guy is going to do if he gets ahead in the count. Or, what’s he going to go to if he’s trying to get him out when he’s behind in the count. We can have paralysis by analysis sometimes, so it’s our job as coaches to take all that information in, filter it, and give the guys what they need as opposed to trying to bog them down with too much information. So, I want to use all of it, but I want to present them with the right information on an everyday basis to make them as good as they can be.
Another summer of Nationals baseball is in the books.
Eighty-six wins and a late-season charge that both captivated and frustrated fans and players alike.
I have been asked by friends and fans how a team with such a talented roster could play sub-.500 baseball for four months – breaking our hearts – and then come back and play so well during the season’s final six weeks?
All I know is there is no ‘sure thing’ in our game and we were certainly reminded of that in 2013. Some might answer that baseball’s true beauty is rooted in its humility. I’m proud of the way this team struggled back to finish the season, going 32-16 in the last seven-plus weeks – giving us back our hope for 2014.
Here are a few of my final thoughts on this season:
- Congratulations to Ian Desmond on his second consecutive 20-homer, 20-stolen base season. It is a joy to watch a true professional play at his level, day-in and day-out. From my seat, I see that he’s quickly becoming the best shortstop in baseball.
Jayson Werth’s stellar season should put him on a short, short list for National League Comeback Player of the Year. His return from last year’s gruesome left wrist injury is simply remarkable. I know from personal experience how seriously and with what care he treats his health – intense rehab and workouts, and near fanatical nutrition.
- Wilson Ramos is a difference-maker in our lineup. His ironman streak of 24 consecutive starts behind the plate with seven home runs and 24 RBI was one of the major factors in bringing this team up in the standings.
- It was disappointing that Jordan Zimmermann was not able to capture his 20th win last week at Busch Stadium, but that takes nothing away from a terrific ‘13 season. I would expect Jordan to capture some votes in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
- While Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak was memorable, I also think it meant he finally found his comfort level in D.C. and the National League. If you remember, Jayson coped with some of his own transition issues when he joined us in 2011 after a long tenure with the Phillies, but found his groove and became the team contributor that we see today.
- We had our fair share of injuries and adversity in 2013. I would have loved to see one more month out of Werth, 130 total starts from Ramos, and for Bryce Harper to have avoided that right field wall at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of the season, but those were the cards we were dealt. That said, those injuries afforded Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, Ian Krol and Tanner Roark the opportunity to showcase their talents over the long stretch. Both the team and the players will benefit from those innings on the field.
- I’d be remiss if I did not thank Davey Johnson for an historic run as our manager. Who will ever forget the summer of 2012, when postseason baseball returned to The Nation’s Capital for the first time since 1933? I know I won’t. Thanks Davey for helping to author memories that will never fade.
- Lastly, I want to thank not only those reading this blog, but all of our fans that stand behind this team on a daily basis. Attendance was up over 9% this season. TV ratings were fantastic. Your passion for Nats baseball is felt all the way to the clubhouse – I’ve even heard our players talk about it. Your enthusiasm reminds us all why this game matters. Thank you!
Mike Rizzo will soon begin interviews to find our next manager. With most of our young talent in place for the next several years, and a strong pitching foundation built around an accomplished rotation, I have to think we have an attractive position to offer. I know Mike has a working list of candidates in mind, but he’s also talking to executives from around the game that he respects. This search will be extensive and we expect he’ll deliver the right man for the job.
It’s my hope that many of you will be able to meet our new skipper at NatsFest in January. We will be rolling out the specifics on our signature offseason event shortly. And MLB’s Winter Meetings (December 9-12 in Orlando, FL) will be here in short time too. Almost time to fire up the Hot Stove.
Yes, I know we all just completed a grueling 162-game season, but my optimism is already on ‘high’ for 2014.
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.
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
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).
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).
The 2013 season is not yet over. But the dream of defending the National League East crown, of a repeat trip to the postseason has come to an end.
While the end always stings, it did not come as suddenly or unexpectedly as the end of the 2012 season. And while it may have technically ended at the hands of the Cardinals, there wasn’t much of a sense of any connection between the end of last year and the end of this year. It was simply happenstance that the Nationals should make their lone trip to St. Louis at the end of September, after staving off elimination for weeks, and that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should each squeak out runs against inferior opponents just minutes earlier to create such a scenario.
The odds were stacked against Washington as early as April, when Atlanta built a division lead it would never relinquish. They grew longer with injuries to key cogs in the offense and the rotation, and with the way the National League shook out, a high-80s win total was simply not good enough to knock on October’s door this year.
“It’s tough,” said Davey Johnson after Monday night’s 4-3 defeat. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done.”
This will be Johnson’s last year in uniform on the bench for Washington, which surely adds to that emotion. But there is solace in knowing that he will be back in the front office next season, helping President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo as the club looks to improve in 2014 and beyond.
“I’m not worried about the organization,” he expressed. “The organization’s in great shape.”
Ian Desmond, who has been the first to stand up and face the media in the wake of any tough loss this season, concurred in his assessment.
“I couldn’t ask to be in a better place, with a better group of guys,” he said.
Even as the national media has portrayed Jayson Werth as the emotional leader of this club, and continued to focus on Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg as the name-brand stars, it was Desmond who stayed consistently, statistically great the past two seasons, no matter what happened around him.
His final 2012 line looked like so: .292/.335/.511 with 60 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and a team-leading 5.0 fWAR.
With five regular season games remaining in 2013, he’s compiled a .285/.337/.463 line with 61 extra-base hits, 21 steals and a 5.1 fWAR, again best on the club.
“For me personally, I just play the game the way I know how to play the game,” he said Monday night. “I don’t turn the dial up. The dial’s already turned up.”
Desmond’s ability to stay healthy has helped him remain consistent in a year of turbulence. That quality is one that Harper, who remained in his full jersey, sitting at his locker well after the conclusion of the game, looks to draw from heading into the offseason.
“I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night,” Harper said, looking ahead to next season, referencing time missed due to injury this year.
But before all attention turns to 2014, Washington can still make life tough on these Cardinals. With two more games in St. Louis, the Nationals can go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the NL Central, perhaps pushing the Cards into the one-game Wild Card.
“We’ve got an opportunity to rain on their parade a little,” said Desmond, well aware of the situation.
And so, with that, we’ll say the words that baseball people never dare to speak aloud.
Let it rain.
The Washington Nationals farm system hasn’t so much met expectations in 2013 as it’s surpassed every one.
Ranked the No. 13 farm system overall in the preseason by Baseball America, the Nationals have surged to the third-best organizational record at 403-322 (.558) overall, trailing only Houston (.572) and San Francisco (.564). Three of Washington’s seven affiliates are playoff-bound, with a fourth in a close division race.
None of this is entirely unexpected either. Under the guidance of President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Nats have gone from the Minor League cellar six years ago to a brief stint at No. 1 in last year’s Baseball America preseason rankings. Not to mention that this farm system has cultivated such talent as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. In fact, 11 players on Washington’s active roster have come through its Minor League system.
Perhaps most remarkable has been the Gulf Coast League Nationals, which have notched the most impressive mark in all of professional baseball. Since the season began on June 21, the Rookie-level entry has gone 48-9 (.842), better than even the tremendous run by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who posted a 47-12 (.797) record in the same span. The GCL Nationals lead their division by 24.0 games, have 13 more wins than the next best team in the league, and clinched their playoff spot long ago.
Obviously, such a run requires more than just luck. The GCL Nationals are tops in the league in most meaningful statistical categories. Their 2.49 team ERA and .279 team batting average pace the field, while their 5.52 runs per game is more than six-tenths of a run better than the next closest total. They boast the league’s leader and runner-up in ERA among qualifiers, 21-year-old righty Wander Suero (8-1, 1.65) and 20-year-old southpaw Hector Silvestre (7-0, 1.82). Righty Lucas Giolito, the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect, drafted 16th overall out of high school in 2012, has returned from Tommy John surgery and was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn in the New York-Penn League after notching a 2.78 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 22.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League.
Like the GCL Nats, the High-A Potomac Nationals have put up ridiculous numbers in the Carolina League. Potomac is 81-51 overall, having already locked up a playoff spot by winning the Northern Division’s first-half championship with a 42-27 record. They’re currently 7.5 games up on Lynchburg in the second half, and will earn home-field advantage in all three Carolina League Division Series contests if they secure the second half title as well.
Cutter Dykstra has helped pace Potomac on its most recent tear. During the P-Nats recent 10-game winning streak (August 10-20), the infielder racked up a .316/.447/.421 line. He also reached base in a league-best 29 games, putting together an 18-game hitting streak in the process. Meanwhile, right-hander Blake Schwartz is 11-4 with a 2.56 ERA and leads the league with a 1.03 WHIP.
The Low-A Hagerstown Suns (77-53) are also headed to the postseason, while the Double-A Harrisburg Senators (72-63) are a half-game up in their Eastern League division, where the top two teams reach the playoffs. The Suns are pacing the South Atlantic League with 5.03 runs per game, benefitting from a fairly balanced lineup. They’ve also recently added 2013 draft pick Jake Johansen, who was 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 rate with Auburn. The Senators, meanwhile, boast a pitching staff that leads the league with a 3.46 ERA. Nationals third-rated prospect A.J. Cole — who earned the save in the 2013 Futures Game — is sitting at 3-2 with a 2.58 ERA since being promoted in late July.
Though the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs have posted just a 65-72 record, they have their bright spots as well in prospects like Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters. Kobernus served a brief stint in the big leagues and earned International League Player of the Week honors for the week of August 12-18. He leads the team and is second among Nationals farmhands with a .324 batting average. Walters, meanwhile, has slugged 29 home runs, 10 more than the next closest total in the organization. The infielder has posted a .531 slugging percentage on the season, especially impressive from the shortstop position.
Washington Nationals (52-56) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (46-62)
RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-6, 3.19) vs. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (2-4, 2.83)
The Nationals have offered a couple of lengthy extensions to players in the last couple of seasons, first signing Gio Gonzalez to a five-year deal with a sixth year club option last January, then following that with Ryan Zimmerman’s seven-year deal, which will retain the Face of the Franchise for the foreseeable future. But Thursday evening, the club offered arguably its most important extension yet, to its top executive, Mike Rizzo.
In addition to a multi-year contract renewal, Rizzo was promoted to President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, a show of faith for the tremendous strides he has made with the Nationals organization. During Rizzo’s tenure as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and GM, Washington saw its farm system rise from dead last all the way to the top of the Baseball America rankings and saw the Major League club go from 103 losses in 2009 to 98 wins last season. The club now consists of one of the youngest, most cost-controlled rosters in the game, with a large window of contention and a bright future ahead.
“It’s humbling and very fulfilling for me,” said Rizzo in the dugout at Miller Park before the Nationals opened the final third of the 2013 season against the Milwaukee Brewers. “I’m not going to change the way I do my job one bit. I’m going to attack the job the way I always have, with hard work and good decisions, and continue to hire good people and let them do their work.”
Rizzo has been in charge of Washington’s drafts since the 2007 season, when he signed Ross Detwiler and second-round pick Jordan Zimmermann, out of little-known Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper number one overall in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010, but also the likes of Taylor Jordan (ninth round, ’09) Nathan Karns (12th round, ’09) and quick rising Minor League arms A.J. Cole (fourth round, ’10) and Robbie Ray (12th round, ’10).
“I think it’s great,” said manager Davey Johnson of Rizzo’s promotion and extension. “I’ve made no secret I think he’s a great baseball man.”
1. Harper LF
2. Rendon 2B
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. Werth RF
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Desmond SS
7. Span CF
8. Ramos C
9. Zimmermann RHP
A WERTHY P.O.M. CANDIDATE
During the month of July, Jayson Werth led the National League in OPS (1.072), on-base percentage (.450) and RBI (22). He also ranked among the Senior Circuit’s top five in home runs (tied-second, seven), batting average (second, .367) and slugging percentage (fifth, .622).
CLASS OF 2005
A closer look at where Ryan Zimmerman ranks among the MLB Draft Class of 2005, which included, among others: Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Gordon, Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Upton.
Home Runs: Second, 165 (Braun, 211)
RBI: Second, 647 (Braun, 681)
Hits: First, 1208
BELOW THE SURFACE
The .547 winning percentage (309-256) posted by the Nationals Minor League system currently ranks fourth among Major League Baseball’s 30 franchises. Washington trails only Houston (.573), Texas (.566), and San Francsico (.554). The Nationals system has registered winning records each of the last five seasons (2008-12), but has never finished among the top five.
As a nod to the tremendous support the Nationals get from their fans each game, the club hosted its annual Season Plan Holder Appreciation Day on Saturday before an afternoon contest against the New York Mets. More than 4,800 full and partial Season Plan Holders took part in the event.
The interactive festivities included a Kids Carnival, an Ultimate Access Lounge, a Season Plan Holder Picnic Area and the opportunity to purchase exclusive game-worn items at the Nationals Authentics booth on the main concourse. Attendees could also participate in a Q & A on the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk hosted by Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler with General Manager Mike Rizzo and Director of Player Development Doug Harris. Each gave candid answers to questions regarding the 2013 season, the team and the Nationals farm system.
The main event was an on-field photo opportunity with Nationals players and coaches, in which fans lined the warning track for a chance to take a photo with their favorite Nationals personalities. Many players and coaches stopped for autographs or a handshake, with manager Davey Johnson the first to appear on the field and the last to leave.
The Nationals also hosted their annual toy drive with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and their Toys for Tots program. New toys and monetary donations were collected prior to Season Plan Holder Appreciation Day as well as Saturday afternoon’s Nationals-Mets game.
Check out the gallery below for photos from the event.
There has been plenty written about the Nationals the past few days and what it will take for them to play in October this season.
We’ll leave the “to reach x wins, they need to go xx-xx the rest of the way” predictions to others. As Davey Johnson and his troops have expressed over recent weeks, what the team needs to do is play at the level its capable of with more consistency. It doesn’t really matter how many games are left, or against whom. We all know this team is capable – when they are playing their best – of beating anyone.
They’ll get their first test immediately out of the All-Star break. The suddenly hot Los Angeles Dodgers come to town to open an 11-game, 10-day homestand, during which they will throw recently acquired Nationals nemesis Ricky Nolasco, along with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Things don’t get easier from there, as the contending Pittsburgh Pirates visit for four games beginning next week. The homestand concludes with a Matt Harvey-headlined doubleheader followed by a pair of weekend games against the scrappy New York Mets.
Of course, the Nationals will counter with arguable the healthiest team they’ve fielded since the first week of the season. With the lineup at full strength, the only pieces missing are Ross Detwiler and Ryan Mattheus, both expected back off the disabled list soon. Washington will also be throwing Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in the three Dodgers games, putting its own best pitching foot forward. Dan Haren, who has a 1.64 ERA (2 ER/11.0 IP) and 14 strikeouts in his two outings since his own return from the DL may be starting to show signs of being the solid veteran pickup that Mike Rizzo and company were hoping for when they signed him last offseason. With Taylor Jordan solidly holding down the fort at the back of the rotation in the meantime, the starting staff looks poised to lead the way.
Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano has closed out 25 of 29 save opportunities with a 2.25 ERA on the season. Tyler Clippard has been one of the best relievers in the game, winning six games out of the ‘pen while posting better than a strikeout per inning and a sub-2.00 ERA. Ian Krol and Fernando Abad have given Washington two lefty relievers they did not have at the beginning of the year, both joining Clippard in the sub-2.00 club thus far. Factor in some solid contributions out of the long-man spot by Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 1.74 ERA) and the bullpen looks as solid as it has all year.
It’s taken a few months for all these pieces to come together and be on the field at the same time. But with a fully rested and healthy squad coming back from the All-Star break, these Nationals look as well constructed as they have been all year to finally put together the extended run that has thus far eluded them, the one they all know they will need to bring October NATITUDE back to The District.
Washington Nationals (46-42) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (43-46)
RHP Dan Haren (4-9, 6.15) vs. LHP John Lannan (1-3, 5.15)
The Nationals finished a three-game sweep of the Padres to cap their final homestand before the All-Star break with a 5-2 mark. Washington will put its four-game winning streak on the line, opening a four-game set in Philadelphia Monday night before traveling to Miami for the final series of the season’s first half.
There’s plenty of other news in Washington, where Dan Haren will come off the Disabled List to make his first start since June 22. The Nationals placed left-hander Ross Detwiler on the 15-day disabled list earlier this week, and optioned Tyler Moore to Triple-A Syracuse to help make room for Haren. The other spot on the roster will be filled by veteran outfielder Scott Hairston, who was acquired for Ivan Pineyro, a right-handed pitcher who had been in Single-A in the Washington system.
The move was lauded by Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, who was happy with the extra depth he now has from the right side on his bench.
“He’s the kind of player we need,” said Johnson before Monday night’s game. “You need a veteran presence on the bench. He knows the pitchers, knows what he needs to do.”
Hairston certainly knows the Phillies well. He is 12-for-30 (.400) with five doubles and five home runs in his career against tomorrow’s scheduled starter, Cole Hamels. Hairston’s success against lefties (over .500 career slugging percentage) and particularly those in Philadelphia were two of the reasons the Nationals pulled the trigger on the trade prior to this series, according to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo.
“He fit the parameters of what we were looking for in terms of the history of exactly what he was brought in here to do,” said Rizzo.
One other piece of news broke shortly before the game Monday night. Bryce Harper, already elected as the youngest National League starter in All-Star Game history, has been chosen by captain David Wright to participate in the 2013 Home Run Derby, taking place at 8:00 p.m. ET next Tuesday, July 15. Harper will be joined by Wright as well as Colorado Rockies outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer.
1. Span CF
2. Desmond SS
3. Harper LF
4. Zimmerman 3B
5. Werth RF
6. LaRoche 1B
7. Rendon 2B
8. Ramos C
9. Haren RHP
This is Washington’s second of three visits to the City of Brotherly Love this season, but their second in 19 days. Ian Desmond’s 11th-inning grand slam on June 19 allowed the Nationals to claim the series finale of the three-gamer here, June 17-19. Desmond’s game-winning slam has sparked a 12-6 surge for the Nationals, who have sliced 3.0 games off the Braves lead in the NL East in that span.
Scott Hairston is a .244 career hitter with 126 doubles, 103 home runs, 298 RBI and 289 runs scored in 10 big league seasons. He has a trio of 15-homer seasons to his credit, including a career-best 20-home run effort in 2012. Hairston’s average of one homer every 22.3 at-bats ranks 21st among active right-handed hitters (min. 2,500 plate appearances). Hairston was originally drafted in 2001 by Mike Rizzo, who at the time was Arizona’s Director of Scouting. Hairston’s older brother, Jerry Jr., played for the Nationals in 2011.
Stephen Strasburg (sixth, 2.45), Jordan Zimmermann (seventh, 2.57) and Gio Gonzalez (16th, 3.14) all rank among the NL’s top 20 in ERA this season. Among teams with at least three qualified starters, the Strasburg-Zimmermann-Gonzalez triumvirate is baseball’s best, as they’ve combined on a 2.67 ERA (104 ER/344.0 IP) this year. St. Louis (2.91 ERA from Adam Wainwright-Shelby Miller-Lance Lynn) and Cincinnati (3.16 ERA from Mike Leake-Mat Latos-Bronson Arroyo) rank second and third, respectively, on that list.