"It's important to understand the relationship [in the] manager/player dynamic," newly-hired Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters today in his introductory press conference. Bench coach Randy Knorr, shortstop Ian Desmond, outfielder Jayson Werth and starter Tanner Roark all showed up in Nationals Park for Williams' big day.
"These guys go through 162 games during the regular season, thirty-plus games of Spring Training," Williams said. "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."
Williams, the first-time manager chosen to replace Davey Johnson in D.C., is tasked with taking the Nats to the next level.
"My job coming in is to say, 'Listen, we need to make sure everybody is prepared. And we need to make sure everybody is healthy,'" the 47-year-old now-former Arizona Diamondbacks' coach and veteran of 17 seasons in the majors said this afternoon. "It's a new challenge. New Spring Training. New city. All those things for me. But my job is to take care of these guys. So, I cherish that relationship. I protect these guys. I am the guy that they can come to hopefully, Ian [Desmond] can come to me hopefully and go, 'Matt, I'm having trouble with my backhand for some reason. Let's work on it.' Great. I've been there. I've done that. I've been that guy.
"Jayson [Werth] can go, 'I'm having trouble doing this,' or, 'I'm not driving the ball like I want to.' Okay, well here's a thought or here's something. Or we want to drive a run in, 'Okay, let's talk about it.' I think the fact that I played, that gives me a little bit of authority, if you will, or knowledge that, 'Hey, listen. I've been there. I've been that guy. I struck out with the bases loaded. I got the game-winning hit. All those things.' I'm here to help them, as is our coaching staff. Because they're going to play and they're going to play well. We're here to try to guide that and try to help them reach their capabilities."
There will be two changes to the coaching staff under Williams. Jim Lett is out as bullpen coach, replaced by former Nats' catcher Matt LeCroy. Williams is also bringing along former D-Backs' Special Assistant to the GM and Major League Advance Scout Mark Weidemaier to serve as the Nationals' Defensive Coordination/Advance Coach. Randy Knorr will return to his role as the bench coach after serving under Davey Johnson for two seasons and interviewing for the job. Williams said he wasn't worried about their being any tension with his bench coach.
"As far as Randy [Knorr] goes. It can be a very difficult dynamic," the new manager admitted. "Because Randy is certainly popular among the players. We have 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, but in our conversations, he said he did. And I trust that and I love that fact and I'm going to lean on him heavy. He knows this. He knows the organization. He knows the game. He is a full-blown manager candidate, just like all of us, otherwise Mike wouldn't have interviewed him. So he is probably the biggest part of this staff in certainly getting to know the players and moving forward for me."
The Nationals' new skipper brings with him a reputation as an aggressive player and coach and he said today that he doesn't see that changing now that he's a manager.
"I think a couple of years ago I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate," Williams said of the job he did as the D-Backs' third base coach. "Which is good, I think. I think it's good. Now the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I've heard those fans from time to time. I think that if you apply pressure, you have the advantage. So 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. It may be a weird way of thinking, but that's the way I think. So, I will be aggressive. My natural tendency is to go. We saw that 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. But, yeah. 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, it can be really special. So, yeah, aggressiveness is key."
Williams said he's also willing to work with and utilize every bit of information available to players, coaches and managers. "There is so much information that is given to us these days and we can find everywhere. Tendencies. 'This guy will throw this pitch in this count 20% of the time.' It's all out there for us to use as we choose to use it. The philosophy that Kirk [Gibson] and myself and Alan Trammell and Don Baylor and those guys in Arizona had put together was we can do all the shifts we want and we can play tendencies all we want, but we have to understand what our pitchers are going to throw, first and foremost. How are our pitchers going to attack opposing hitters and how can we play accordingly?"
The approach worked for Arizona defensively in Williams' mind. "The proof is in that pudding, I think. Certainly with the Diamondbacks leading the league in fielding percentage is key. Had two guys on the field who won Gold Gloves this last year. Now, 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, won us a game, whatever it is. So 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 is an expert at that. He has been an advance scout. He created all of our defensive advance reports with Arizona. Has scouted both leagues. Spent 175 days of the 180 days of the season in a hotel room on the road. Knows what he's doing. And I think that will help us be a better team.
"We understand that it's a very fine line between two and a half runs and three and a half runs or four and a half runs. It's a very fine line. But I do understand also that if we can cut one down at some point during that game, we have a much better chance of winning with the kind of club we've got. So that is important and this going to be our focus, I think, as a coaching staff and we will let the players know, certainly that we expect that to be a focus of their's moving forward."
The Nationals were reportedly impressed with Williams' thorough knowledge of Washington's organization and minor league system, but he readily admitted several times that he's still got a lot to learn and will lean on his coaches for help as he learns more.
"I don't know everything," he said, "but I know that, 1. 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. To develop these guys to become big league baseball players at the highest level certainly, and be All-Star players, that's important. And of course, the team being put together by Mike and [Asst. GM] Bryan [Minniti] at the big league level is phenomenal."
While he may not have much experience as a manager outside of filling in for a time in Double-A and guiding an Arizona Fall League squad, he said he's had a baseball lifetime of learning from those he's worked with.
"I think I took a little bit from all of them," Williams explained. "Dusty Baker is my mentor. He was my hitting instructor early on with San Francisco. Later became the manager. I spent hours and hours in the cage with him. And 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 a little bit from Dusty in that he is the ultimate player's manager. He communicates so well with the players that you hear it all the time, 'Well, they would run through the wall for Dusty.' Well, that's because he understands them and he speaks to them as men. And we're on the same level. Player/manager certainly.
"But I value Jayson Werth's opinion on something, you know what I mean? So that's the kind of relationship I want to have with this club, with these guys. That they can come to me with anything, I can go to them with anything and it's a conversation between men." That conversation started when he interviewed for the job and likely continued when the press conference ended. Next week, Williams and Knorr will be in Arizona to watch the team's prospects in action in the AFL. After that it's the Winter Meetings, Spring Training, Opening Day and the 2014 campaign. The Nats' new skipper is eager to get started.
"I am honored to be the Washington Nationals' manager," Williams said, "and I'm ready to go."
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