All the drills, bullpen sessions and live batting practices are fun, sure. But Grapefruit League games start at 1:10 pm on Friday afternoon for the Washington Nationals when they travel to Port St. Lucie, Florida's Tradition Field to take on the New York Mets.
When new Nationals' Manager Matt Williams spoke to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, with just a light work day on Thursday between him and his first competive game as the Nats' manager, he said he thought his players were ready to start playing other teams. "I think they've had fun," he said, "and I think that they've worked really hard and I know they're all itching to get to games and have a different uniform sitting in the other dugout."
"I think the offensive players are about sick and tired of live batting practice at this point," Williams continued, "but that's good. They've gotten a chance to see a lot of different guys, get a lot of looks, so now it's time to put it to work."
General Manager Mike Rizzo, who hired Williams this winter after two-plus years of Davey Johnson managing the Nationals, told ESPN980's The Sports Fix hosts Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro Thursday that the 48-year-old former major league player is working out well thus far in his first managing gig outside of a short stint in the Arizona Fall League.
"He's a players' manager," Rizzo said, "and he's a guy that is not that far removed from the playing field. He can really relate to the modern player and for a guy who was a star in his own right, really went through some struggles, especially early in his career, so he can relate to the player that is struggling, to the superstar player and he is a very organized, eloquent speaker. He's a great leader. He's got an edge to him and he's really a guy that is very detail-orientated."
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"I love it," Williams said Wednesday when asked about the experience of leading a franchise through a full Spring Training. "It's nerve-wracking because I've never been on this side of it, but at the same time it's rewarding that we've gotten here and now we're on the verge of starting games and having it ramp up a little bit and get a little bit faster for everybody."
Williams gave 25-year-old right-hander Taylor Jordan the nod as the starter the spring opener with New York.
Jordan debuted in the majors against the Mets last June 29th in Citi Field rising through the ranks quickly in a sort-of out-of-nowhere first full-year back from Tommy John surgery which began in High-A Potomac and ended in August after nine starts for the Nationals over which he was worth +0.7 fWAR, going (1-3) with a 3.66 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, 11 walks (1.92 BB/9) and 29 Ks (5.05 K/9) in 51 2/3 IP. Williams said there's a reason Jordan's had such a meteoric rise.
"He has sped through the system and there's a reason for that," Williams said. "He's really good, a really good pitcher.
"He's got a mid-90's fastball and movement. Good changeup. Breaking ball for strikes. I've been really impressed with what I've seen. It's electric stuff out of the hand. So, I can't wait to see him in a game and get an opposition hitter in there and have some competition for him."
If things go smoothly, Jordan is expected to go two innings on Friday. A parade of relievers will handle the rest of the work. Jordan Zimmermann's scheduled to start the first game of the spring in Space Coast Stadium on Saturday. Then the Nationals play again Sunday and Monday and Tuesday...