As Opening Day approaches, and Matt Williams gets deeper into his first run as a manager in Grapefruit League action, he plans to start working his everyday players into the lineup more regularly. Early this spring, however, he's taken the opportunity to get a good look at the Nats' prospects and bench options while he can and get them at bats that won't necessarily be as plentiful over the next couple weeks.
"As we get closer to the season during spring, the regulars start to play more," the 48-year-old, first-time skipper explained in a conversation with reporters on Saturday. "So if you don't get your guys at bats at this point, when are you going to get them at bats? So, our objective is at the beginning of the season have everybody have their timing, have played enough and ready for the season. So that's why the guys that are the backup guys or not your everyday starters play more early, because otherwise you can't find them at bats."
And the Nationals do intend on playing their bench players and backups regularly this season with the hope of having everyone healthy all the way through as they attempt to return to playing important games in September and October following 2013's disappointing 86-76 second-place finish in the NL East division they won in 2012.
"Our objective is to have our backup guys or our bench guys play during the season," Williams said, "so we want to make sure that they are sharp and they're ready. Because our plan moving forward is to have scheduled days off for guys to keep them healthy throughout the season."
Scott Hairston, 33, acquired last July in a trade with the Cubs after he signed a 2-year/$5M deal with Chicago in February of 2013, figures to be a part of the bench, as a threat against left-handed pitching.
Through six games this spring, the veteran outfielder is 1 for 14 with eight Ks, and early on he's been facing left and right-handers as he prepares for a second season in D.C.
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"It's more a function of schedule as opposed to matchups," Williams explained, since the starting pitchers only go a few innings now and it's hard to know who'll take the mound in Grapefruit League action.
"As we get closer and we can match up a little bit more, then we'll look at that," he said. "We'll look at him coming off the bench, late in the game against a good matchup. And then certainly getting him in there against lefties too, but right now it's just a function of at bats."
Williams was asked if Hairston is looking like the first option off the bench against left-handers?
"He's one of them. Tyler Moore is an option. He's an option. So, yeah. He handles lefties really well. But in our scheme, in our plan, he's got to play left field too, so we've got to get him in games to do that."
Moore handled lefties well in Triple-A Syracuse in 2013, posting a .366/.451/.707 line in 41 ABs vs LHPs, but so far in his major league career, the 27-year-old slugger has a .222/.276/.383 line vs lefties.
Moore struggled in a bench role early last season before being sent to the Nats' top affiliate where he found swing given regular at bats. He is 3 for 19, with seven Ks in seven games so far this spring, but Williams said he wasn't worried about the right-handed hitting infielder/outfielder.
"I think it's a function right now for Tyler of missing his pitch," Williams told reporters. "So, his timing has been a little bit off. He's been a little bit jumpy at the plate, which is expected. I certainly understand that early in spring cause that was always my problem early. Being a little bit jumpy and being off the breaking ball, things like that. So, how do you get out of that? Well, you just get at bats and you play. His timing will come. We all know, we've all seen what he can do when he gets regular at bats and his timing is there and he's playing every day and all that."
"So, our objective now is just to get him ABs and it will come. It will come at some point during spring where he starts to feel comfortable."