Bryce Harper told reporters on Wednesday that he wanted to work on his baserunning this spring and he said he looked forward to picking new Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams' brain for ideas on how he could get better on the basepaths.
"Baserunning," Harper said, "that's huge for me this year. I'm going to try to be better at that and pick Matt's mind about that kind of stuff and really watch pitchers and see what they're doing on that. Hitting-wise, I feel pretty good, and I want to get in there and just try to hit homers. Nah, I'm just kidding. I just want to have good ABs and try to get my strikeouts down again and my walks up. I think I did a pretty good job of that last year. Being a lot more patient."
Williams said he already talked to Harper about improving his running game.
"Talked about it [Tuesday] and that's a really welcome comment and sign," Williams said. "He wants to get better at it. And again, I don't know anybody that can't improve on their baserunning. Improve on all aspects of their game, really. So, we have to understand where he comes from. He is a dynamic player and someone who didn't have a whole lot of minor league experience. So, that being said, he wants to improve and that's a great thing. We're here and available for everybody and certainly give everybody our opinion and go from there."
Stephen Strasburg told Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell earlier this week that he knows his lack of experience holding runners on has been an issue, so he's in camp and working on improving that aspect of his game, which impressed his new manager.
"He's taking initiative like we talked about yesterday in his holding baserunners," Williams said. "Nobody asked him to do that, that's him. Well, that's a great sign, cause he's taking ownership of his game and his pitching and what he can mean for this club. So all that's good."
Williams is also getting used to the different personalities in the clubhouse and learning about his players, which he said was even more important than thinking about in-game decisions as he prepares for his first year on the bench.
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"Probably one of the most important [things]," he said. "Again you get in a game and you get in a situation where it looks like it's a good opportunity to steal a base or you hit and run or whatever it is, that's within the game. Those opportunities don't come every day. You deal with personalities on an everyday basis. So, what I want to do is know them first and foremost. What's important to them. Have them feel comfortable opening up and saying, 'I think I can improve on this, that and the other.' And once they do that then we can help as a staff.
"We can help them, we can give them experiences that we've had or whatever it is. But, there's a little 'Get to know me' process going on now too, because they don't know me."
Williams was comfortable enough with Gio Gonzalez that he helped take part in a clubhouse prank that had the left-hander's "modeling" pics from his Instagram feed projected on a screen for all of his teammates to see. "We had a little picture of Gio this morning in the meeting," Williams explained.
"I think it was good," the manager said. "You'd have to ask them, but I think it was good. It was a little lighthearted moment in the meeting this morning. I don't know where [the picture] came from, but all of a sudden I had it by email."
Gonzalez enjoyed the moment.
"He thought it was funny," Williams said, "and the rest of the guys thought it was funny."
Gonzalez also impressed his new manager when he took the mound for one of his early bullpen sessions this spring. "It's interesting because Gio is very outgoing," Williams told reporters, "as we all know and very happy-go-lucky. But I also know that when it's time for business he's ready to go. He's about pitching. And he takes his bullpens very seriously and he's pretty darn good. My impressions are that he's jovial. He's a good teammate."
"I think he's a student of the game," Williams continued. "I think he appreciates the fact that he gets to go out there every five days and he takes the ball and answers."
"He's intense when he goes," the Nats' skipper concluded. "When it's time to turn it on he's all about business. Which is good."