Results tagged ‘ Randy Knorr ’

Nationals announce return of entire coaching staff

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by Amanda Comak

On the heels of Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams taking home the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year award, the Nationals announced Wednesday morning that they will welcome back all of their coaches from the 2014 staff.

In keeping bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and defensive coordinator/advance coach Mark Weidemaier in the fold for 2015, Williams will have stability and continuity on his staff as he enters his second year at the helm.

McCatty, the longest-tenured member of the Nationals’ Major League staff, returns for his seventh season. Knorr returns for his fourth season as the Nationals’ bench coach, and sixth year on the staff, while Tarasco and Schu will begin their third seasons on the coaching staff. Henley, LeCroy and Weidemaier will all be back for their second campaigns.

Six of the Nationals’ seven coaches had experience coaching in Washington’s system before earning their Major League assignments, making the Nationals’ an exceptionally “homegrown” staff.

This marks the first time since 2007-2008 that the Nationals have returned their entire coaching staff in successive seasons.

Running Men: A Nationals coaching staff routine

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by Amanda Comak

Nationals Manager Matt Williams, left, and third base coach Bobby Henley at the tail end of one of their runs this season.

Nationals Manager Matt Williams, left, and third base coach Bobby Henley at the tail end of one of their runs this season.

Inside the visitors’ clubhouse at AT&T Park, the music blared. High-fives and fist bumps were exchanged all over the room. Positive energy pumped through the locker stalls.

A long west coast trip had gotten off to a terrific start for the Washington Nationals with five wins in their first six games, including three straight against the San Francisco Giants — who came into the series playing better than any team in the National League.

Inside the manager’s office, Matt Williams smiled, and then groaned. Mere hours separated the Nationals from their next game, a 12:45 p.m. start locally, and then the next city on the trip beckoned.

“We have to run tomorrow,” Williams said late that night, massaging his left calf. “We’re killing ourselves.”

The “we” to which the Nationals’ manager referred was the coaching staff. And the runs, between 30-40 minutes or three to four miles of torture, well, they’ve become quite a routine among the Nationals’ coaches.

“It’s entirely superstitious,” Williams said in early July. “If we take a day off and we don’t win, then we definitely have to run the next day. If we run and we play like we did (in a 13-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on July 5), then we have to run the exact same route.”

Williams, who used to run with the Diamondbacks coaching staff in previous years, brought the daily runs to the Nationals when he took over as manager. They’re all named, and folks of all fitness levels are welcome. They won’t leave any man behind, Williams said, but “we keep it sane, too.”

In D.C., they have three main runs: The River Run, featuring views of the Anacostia and the Potomac Rivers, the Capitol Run, which is up to and around the Capitol Building, and the Power Run, a jaunt to the Capitol Building, by the Supreme Court and past the Library of Congress.

It’s not hard to see how that one got its name.

“That’s the power of our country, right there,” Williams said.

But the road trips provide opportunities for other routes. Williams ticks them off with obvious enjoyment.

Attachment-1In San Francisco, they have the Embarcadero Run. In San Diego, it’s the Midway Run or the Airport Run (“Depending on how we’re feeling,” the manager explains). In Philadelphia, they leave from the hotel and do the Rocky Run. In Miami, the South Beach Run. St. Louis features the Arch Run, and in Milwaukee, from Miller Park, it’s the Graveyard Run. The list goes on. And everywhere the Nationals visit, they’ll have at least one running route to tour.

Williams, while the most enthusiastic about the runs, said the coaches have mostly jumped on board. It’s a time for them to build camaraderie and bond, while also (hopefully) bettering their own health.  Williams singled out third base coach Bobby Henley as one who has really taken to the runs and improved. Plus, there’s the aforementioned superstitions.

“They don’t gripe,” Williams said, smiling. “I hear little snippets, but no griping. Secretly I think they like it.”

But do they really?

“I absolutely hate ‘em,” said bench coach Randy Knorr. “But I go.”

Nationals play first game under new instant replay rules

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by Amanda Comak

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The Washington Nationals will play their first game with the availability of instant replay Wednesday, joining a number of teams that have already gotten their first crack at the new system. While the squad will be split, with one group headed to Orlando to face the Atlanta Braves, the entire Major League coaching staff will be at Osceola County Stadium for the team’s first game under the new rules.

The Nationals will play five games with the use of instant replay this spring, giving the players and the coaching staff a chance to get accustomed to a system that will be in place for all 162 regular season games.

Nationals Manager Matt Williams could get his first chance to challenge a call on Wednesday.

Nationals Manager Matt Williams could get his first chance to challenge a call on Wednesday.

“It’s good practice for us — for everybody,” said manager Matt Williams. “If there’s a questionable call we are going to challenge that call during the course of our spring games, so we get a sense of what it is and how we go about doing it. There’s also the opportunity to talk to (the umpires) and not have to use a challenge. The umpires have told us they’re willing to do that because they want to get it right as well. (But) we’re here (in Spring Training). We might as well do it and get accustomed to it while we’re here.”

On Wednesday, the Nationals planned to have Advance Scouting and Video Coordinators Erick Dalton and Chris Rosenbaum at their posts in front of the same feed that the MLB offices in New York will be getting. If a call arises that the team would like to replay, Dalton and Rosenbaum will communicate with bench coach Randy Knorr and they’ll go from there.

The instant replay system is still in its infancy, and everyone will have to go through a process of getting accustomed to the various procedures. One of the main ones for teams to consider is that if a manager uses his challenge in innings one through six, and he is wrong, he loses the ability to challenge again. But if he is correct, and the call gets overturned, he will keep his ability to challenge.

To read more about the new rules, click here.

How a team will use its challenges will be one of the more interesting items to watch in the early going, and Williams shed a little light on his thinking in that regard.

“I think if it means something to our team, we’re going to use it,” Williams said. “And if we’re confident that we’re right, we’re going to get another one. In any situation where something like that comes up, I would imagine I’d ask the umpires to take a look at it. If we have to get to a situation where we challenge, then we’ll challenge, but we’d have to be confident we’ll get it changed for our team. It’ll be fluid with every game because every game presents something different.

“If you’re sure the call should go your way, you might as well use it because you’re going to get another opportunity. The sticky one is the one that is questionable, where it’s not conclusive one way or another — and there are those calls, even with slow motion and all the technology. You want to be right. If you are right, you get another one. So we’ll see how that goes.”

A lot will go into each decision to decide to challenge a call, starting with the video coordinators, funneling through Knorr, and ultimately ending with Williams’ decision to use the word “challenge” in a conversation with the umpires. Game situations will be considered, along with the team’s confidence in the fact that an errant call was made. It adds a new layer to the game, without question, but the ultimate goal of everyone involved is the same: to get the calls right.

“It doesn’t hurt to go have a look,” Williams said. “This game is played with emotion, and it’s played with eyes, and the want to win. That being said, often times we get clouded, too, in our view of things, because we want our team to win. It’s going to allow us to have clarification and to be clear about what we’re seeing.

“We always think when your pitcher’s throwing it, it’s a strike, and when our batter’s taking it, it’s a ball. But this gives us clarification in (other) scenarios.”

The rain was falling steadily at Osceola County Stadium late Wednesday morning, so there was some question whether or not the Nationals would indeed get their first replay opportunity on this day. Whenever it comes, though, they’ll welcome it.

“I’m looking forward to it because it is what it is,” Williams said. “It’s part of our game right now and we have to do it so I’m excited about that… I’m looking forward to the opportunity for us to potentially get a call changed our way and win a game.”

A Q&A with Nationals Manager Matt Williams

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How have the last six weeks been since you were named manager of the Nationals?

It’s been busy. It’s been an adjustment. The baseball part of it is all the same. But we’re busy with roster planning, Spring Training schedules and all of that stuff. I had the chance to get back to D.C. a couple of times, trying to get to know everybody, so that’s been good. It’s been fun.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

After that initial weekend in D.C. for your press conference, was it nice to get home and get focused on the job?

It was nice to get to work. You go do the interview, you don’t know if you’re going to get hired, you don’t know when it’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden it happens. And then it’s time to get to work. I’ve enjoyed that process, putting together everything and looking toward Spring Training.

What was it like getting to know Randy Knorr in Arizona?

It was great. It was easy. Randy came out and spent parts of four days with us. He’s got a unique knowledge of all these guys, which is important. He’s great with everything – letting me know what his thoughts are, how he views things. I’m going to rely on him a lot because of that knowledge and his familiarity [with the club]. We went through everything you can possibly think of. He’d come over for dinner, we’d eat dinner and all of a sudden it was midnight. We had fun. We enjoyed it.

What has your communication been like with the other coaches?

We have weekly conference calls. They’re all going through their own responsibilities, and we’re taking their input into the schedule for Spring. So I’ve been getting to know everybody and their philosophies, their thoughts on guys and how those thoughts could be best implemented.

With everybody strewn all over the place, it’s great this way. Everybody jumps on the conference call and we go through it. Those calls last, probably, a couple of hours. It’s been good.

Probably after the first of the year, I’ll get a chance to see (first base coach) Tony Tarasco, he’ll come out to Arizona, and I know (hitting coach) Rick Schu from Arizona. But it’s been good communication on all fronts, which is great.

Tanner Roark, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Randy Knorr sat in on Williams' press conference.

Tanner Roark, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Randy Knorr sat in on Williams’ press conference.

What kind of communication have you had with your players thus far?

I went to Jayson Werth’s house when I was in D.C., talked to Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and talked to Stephen Strasburg via text. I’ll continue to make an effort to reach out to the players. It’s holiday time, families have new babies, and all kinds of stuff so guys are busy.

But from a baseball perspective, once the first of the year hits, it’s baseball time again. I’ll continue to reach out and talk to those guys. We’re going to put together a schedule for Spring and I’ll get a chance to send that to the players and let them review it so they have a sense of what they’re getting into. Then I’ll follow up with a phone call and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we expect. What are your thoughts? What would you like to accomplish?’ But I’ve talked to some of the guys already.

Have you enjoyed those chats?

Yes. When guys are comfortable, and they know that their manager has their back and he understands them, then their natural playing ability comes out easier. That’s what I hope to accomplish: to get to know them first as men. They know the manager-player relationship. We all do. But I want to understand them. That’s part of the process. So when they tell me something, I know what they really mean. That’s half the battle.

What was your reaction when Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo told you about the trade for Doug Fister?

Oh yeah. Wow. He’s somebody who I view as undervalued. His numbers stack up against anybody’s. He does it a different way — it’s not a power, 97-mph fastball — but he throws strikes, he commands the strike zone, throws over the plate, he’s a ground-ball machine. He knows how to pitch. What I like about him is that he pounds the strike zone. He’s not afraid. That’s a good thing. I’m glad to have him.

And when you look at our board and see our depth, it’s unusual to see a board like that. You’ve got, potentially, eight or nine guys competing for your starting rotation. It causes problems, too, but I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want to look at that board and say, ‘That’s our team.’

Has it been interesting for you to be here and be a part of the roster planning?

It’s great to know that there’s been a lot of thought put into the roster and what everybody can bring to the team. Ultimately, we need that depth to win a championship. Very rarely are there 25 guys who play every day, all season. I want to understand everybody in the front office, and how they’ve formed their opinions. It’s great to be a part of.

Do you think at this time next year you’ll feel even more comfortable asserting your opinions on how to shape the team and what you’d prefer as a manager?

I know, from a defensive perspective, what I want now. I have strong opinions on that. But it’s all a product of who’s available and what you’ve got in other aspects of the team. Those questions happen every year.

I don’t know how many years of baseball knowledge are in (the Nationals suite at the Winter Meetings), but when you look around the room, it’s easy to know that there’s a lot. There’s a lot of value there. And everybody’s been great with me so far. It’s been fun. It’s been good to see everybody and get to know the guys who I don’t know. They’re not holding back, which is good. They’re giving me their opinion. It’s good that they feel comfortable. I value that, because it’s important to have it.

Does it feel like it’s taking forever for Spring Training to arrive?

Yes. And I’m anxious to get going. Everybody is. I think everybody sees the potential. I’m not alone in that. But it takes time to make sure we get it all planned out, and that’s good, because then we can make sure it runs seamlessly when we get there.

Matt Williams Press Conference Transcript

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.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Opening statements:

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.

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.

Members of the D.C. media got a chance to meet Matt Williams Friday afternoon.

Members of the D.C. media got a chance to meet Matt Williams Friday afternoon.

Q&A with the D.C. Media:

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.

Williams inherits a talented Nationals squad that averaged 92 wins over the past two seasons.

Williams inherits a talented Nationals squad that averaged 92 wins over the past two seasons.

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.

Williams signed his contract earlier in the day Friday, officially making him the fifth manager in Nationals history.

Williams signed his contract earlier in the day Friday, officially making him the fifth manager in Nationals history.

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.

Saturday Night Fever

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“I feel like we were just destined to win that game, some way, somehow.”

Those words came from Dan Haren, maybe the most unlikely of heroes from a game full of them, saturated with storylines from both dugouts.

Saturday night was supposed to be about Bryce Harper, about unwritten baseball rules, about the rising tension between the Nationals and the Braves as they battled through the dog days of summer. But amidst a bizarre game in which two of the best young pitchers in baseball each failed to escape the second inning, it became a story of a true team effort in which 21 of the 25 men on the Washington roster played a role. In the end, the Nationals prevailed after 15 innings and nearly five-and-a-half hours, by a final of 8-7.

Adam LaRoche provided the decisive blow with his team-leading 18th home run.

Adam LaRoche provided the decisive blow with his team-leading 18th home run.

While any 15-inning affair will naturally be referred to most commonly as a marathon, this division rivalry felt more like a long distance relay race, with one reliever handing the baton to the next, over and over again. In all, 18 different pitchers were used by the two clubs – nine each – including the starters, each club’s entire seven-man bullpen, and two more starters to close it out.

Along the way, Washington set a number of records. The 15 innings matched the longest game in Nationals history, equaling the 2009 season finale, a 2-1 win over none other than the Braves at Turner Field. The five-hour, 29-minute affair was the lengthiest in terms of time elapsed. Meanwhile, the 19 strikeouts compiled by the Washington bullpen shattered the all-time Major League mark, at least as far back as anyone can be sure. The records for such a stat only date back to 1971, to which point the highest total ever compiled by a relief staff in a single game was 16. But considering the way the sport had evolved, with increased strikeout rates and higher bullpen usage, it’s hard to imagine any club amassing a comparable total in any previous era.

Following Stephen Strasburg’s second-inning ejection, Tanner Roark was the first Nationals reliever to answer the call, entering a 4-2 game and providing four innings of one-hit, scoreless relief with six strikeouts. Drew Storen tossed a perfect seventh inning, striking out the side. Ian Krol rebounded from a tough Friday night outing to put up two more scoreless frames in extra innings, and Craig Stammen followed a two-inning stint Friday night with a 55-pitch, three-inning scoreless stretch to get the game to the 15th inning.

Dan Haren earned his first Major League save in relief.

Dan Haren earned his first Major League save in relief.

Of course, in the midst of the impressive relief outings, the Braves tied the game in the ninth, making all of the extra pomp and circumstance necessary in the first place. But neither team would score again until the 15th inning, when Adam LaRoche punished a hanging breaking ball from Kris Medlen for a moonshot to right field, the ball searing through the mist at Turner Field before coming to rest in the bleachers, a dozen rows deep, giving the Nationals the lead once more.

That left the game to Haren, summoned from the bullpen to make his first relief appearance since 2004. Haren had thrown his routine side work prior to the game, tossing 30-35 pitches, which he followed with an upper body workout. But when Strasburg’s evening was cut short, several hours earlier, he offered up his services, should they be needed. They were.

“I’m proud of him for even doing that,” said Randy Knorr, who took over as manager when Davey Johnson was ejected along with Strasburg. “A lot of guys wouldn’t even have gone down there after throwing a bullpen.”

Haren allowed a single, but that was all, striking out Jordan Schafer flailing at a splitter, his bat sent cartwheeling towards the Braves dugout to end the game. That netted Haren first Major League save, and only his second as a professional, the other coming more than 12 years prior as a member of the New Jersey Cardinals of the Short-season New York Penn League on July 15, 2001 against the Lowell Spinners.

“I’m only supposed to do media every five days,” Haren joked as the huddle approached his locker after 1 a.m. local time.

In the end, the Nationals went home with a big road victory in Atlanta. Their reward. Both clubs get a whopping 12 hours and 46 minutes between the final out and the first pitch on Sunday afternoon. Haren summed it up best when all was said and done.

“Five-hour games are fine when you win them. But when you lose them, they really stink.”

What to Watch for: 6/11

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Washington Nationals (35-23) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (31-29)

RHP Edwin Jackson (2-3, 3.11) vs. RHP Brandon Morrow (7-3, 2.90)

The Nationals move on to another Interleague series at Rogers Centre in Toronto to face the Blue Jays starting Monday night. Washington is looking to strengthen its lead in the NL East, but Toronto ace Brandon Morrow may prove as a major challenge in tonight’s series opener.

CANADIAN HOMECOMING

The Nationals return north of the border for just the fourth time since relocating from Montreal to Washington, D.C. prior to the 2005 season. This marks their first Canada trip since June 2007 when they dropped two of three to the Blue Jays, and where they are just 2-7 in Canada since making the move. Two Nationals coaches have Blue Jays ties as bench coach Randy Knorr played five seasons (‘91-’95) and won two World Series rings with the Jays and bullpen coach Jim Lett coached on Toronto’s staff from ‘97-’99.

EDWIN LOOKS TO CONTINUE THE WINNING WAYS

Edwin Jackson collected just his second win of the season in his last start (6/6 vs. NYM) despite seven quality starts in 11 outings so far in 2012. Tonight, he makes his 14th career start against the Blue Jays. He is 3-0 with a 4.43 ERA (20 ER/40.2 IP) in his last six starts against Toronto dating to July 30, 2008.

NL BROOMS MAKE RARE APPEARANCE AT FENWAY

With a weekend series sweep over the Red Sox, the Nationals became the first National League team to sweep a series at Fenway since the Atlanta Braves did so in June ’02. Roger Bernadina broke a 3-3 tie with a RBI-double in the ninth inning off Alfredo Aceves, scoring Bryce Harper from first base. Jordan Zimmermann posted seven innings of three-run ball, before turning it over to Tom Gorzelanny (win, 2-1) and Tyler Clippard (8th save).

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30 Players in 30 Days: Bryce Harper


Bryce Harper 3.JPGBryce Harper has been labeled the Lebron James of baseball. So in case you didn’t watch “The Decision: Part II,” Bryce Harper is taking his talents to the desert and
will join the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. It was a decision–influenced by Harper’s talent–and made by General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff because they didn’t want him to be idle for the next two months after he held own in the Instructional League. Yeah, there are drawbacks but Rizzo believes the benefits will easily outweigh the possible cost: struggling.

Harper proved he can play in the Florida Instructional League. He batted.319 (15-for-47) with four doubles, a triple, four homers, 12 RBI and seven walks. Harper–who led Washington’s Instructional League squad in homers, RBI and walks–posted .407 on-base and .702 slugging percentages en route to a stellar 1.110 OPS (OBP+SLG).

Now, this isn’t the Instructional League–the AFL offers the top-talent that is knocking on the door of the Majors–but Rizzo isn’t concerned.

“There is a high level of baseball going on,” Rizzo said. “Two months of this guy working out, practicing and playing will only benefit him. He is going to be fine in the [AFL].”

To ease Harper into the action they will restrict his playing time. He will join his new club on Tuesday as a member of the Scorpions’ Taxi Squad. Translation: he will work out, travel and dress normally as do members of Scottsdale’s active roster but he will only be eligible to participate in games twice a week, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Harper will also be eligible to replace Nationals farmhands on Scottsdale’s active roster due to injury.

Part of the incentive to send Harper to Arizona is that he will be able to work extensively with Manager Randy Knorr, considered one of the best teachers in the Nationals organization, to learn the intricacies of right field. He will also work with Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein to refine his swing.

“He’s 17 years old and he doesn’t even turn 18 until Saturday,” Rizzo said. “He is very excited. What I had to decide on was: ‘Is he going to be over his head in the AFL?’ It’s a very advanced league, but I think he is going to handle it. It’s going to be very valuable to him.”

While this may seem like it is putting him on a fast track to the Majors, it isn’t. He is still expected to start the season in Single-A.

“He is going to A-ball, make no mistake about it,” Rizzo added. “He is not going to be a rushed guy. We are going to let his performance and development dictate where this guy goes.”

In other news not Harper, here are a few Nationals farmhands who performed at high levels during the just-completed Instructional League: outfielder Tyler Moore (.550, 4 doubles, 2 home runs, 11 RBI), catcher Sandy Leon (.429), outfielder Eury Perez (.357, 3 stolen bases), infielder Steven Souza (.345, 4 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 RBI), righthander A.J. Morris (0.00 ERA in 4 games, 7 strikeouts in 5.0 innings), lefthander Sammy Solis (0.00 ERA and 9 strikeouts in 9.0 innings spanning 3 games), righthander Ryan Mattheus (1.35 ERA and 6 strikeouts in 6.2 innings) and lefthander Robbie Ray (2.53 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10.2 innings spanning 4 games).

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