Former major league closer and current MLB Network and FOX Sports' analyst Mitch Williams was promoting his involvement in the Hilton HHonors Little League's Outstanding Coach contest which chose Weston, Connecticut Little League coach Seve Esposito as their Outstanding Coach through a Facebook Contest that had players, fans and family vote for their own coach as the best in the country. Esposito, with Williams in attendance, threw out the first pitch of the 2012 Little League World Series earlier this week after winning the contest. As part of the promotion, Williams was doing some interviews this morning, so given the opportunity I had to ask the veteran of 11 MLB seasons with the Rangers, Phillies, Cubs, Astros and Angels, who went to the postseason twice with Chicago and Philadelphia, for his thoughts on the Nationals' plan to shut Stephen Strasburg down with the Nats seemingly on their way to the first postseason berth for a team from the nation's capital since 1933?:
Mitch Williams: "I'm not a big fan of that at all. I'm a guy that believes if a pitcher is healthy and he's not laboring there is no reason whatsoever to shut him down, so that's going to be a hard sell to the rest of that team that have worked so hard to put themselves in a position to be in first place in the National League East, be looking at a postseason berth and then to have to be Mike Rizzo and walk into the clubhouse and say, 'Oh, by the way, we're taking our ace and shutting him down.' That would be a hard pill for me to swallow."
Federal Baseball (FBb): As a pitcher, what do you do when your team, your agent, everyone is telling you it's the best thing for your future, but clearly you're going to want to be out there on the mound in the postseason?
Mitch Williams: "If I'm Stephen Strasburg, no.1, my agent has no say in what I do. Scott Boras needs to realize and Stephen Strasburg needs to remind him that Stephen writes his checks, not the other way around. [Boras] works for him. As far as the Nationals? That's an organizational decision. Strasburg really can't argue that because he is an employee of the Washington Nationals, but if the Nationals are letting Scott Boras influence that decision, that's wrong on their part."
FBb: From what's been said, the agent's opinion, the medical research and Mike Rizzo's knowledge and history as a scout are all factoring into the decision?
Mitch Williams: "I'm of the belief that if a kid is not struggling to deliver the baseball, there is no reason whatsoever to shut him down."
FBb: There hasn't been postseason baseball in the nation's capital since 1933, what can Washington, D.C expect when the circus comes to town if they're able to hold on and make it?
Mitch Williams: "If they're able to get there, no.1 it would be great for the city and that's going to be another tough sell. How are they going to spin that to the public. Here we have a pitcher that's our ace. He's perfectly healthy, we've got a chance to have postseason baseball in this town that hasn't been there in forever and we're not going to let [Strasburg] pitch. How do you spin that to your fanbase?"
FBb: "I've been talking about that for a year now, just when the interest is picking up, they're turning D.C. into a baseball town and now to have to sell that to the fanbase is going to (and has been) difficult."
Mitch Williams: "Absolutely."
FBb: 192 saves in the regular season in your career, three postseason saves, what should Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who've never pitched in the postseason expect to be different if they take the mound in the ninth inning of a playoff game?
Mitch Williams: "The one thing they have to remember is the game is the same. It doesn't change. Postseason baseball, if anything in the closer role, you can expand even more. Once you're ahead of guys you have to throw even fewer strikes, because hitters are antsy, they want to swing the bat, they all want to be heroes, so take advantage of that."
FBb: Can you break down Tyler Clippard as a closer and what you think of the job he's done after taking over this season?
Mitch Williams: "I think Tyler has done a great job, there's no question about it. He's got very, very good stuff and I will say this til the day I die, the eighth inning is harder to pitch than the ninth inning. And once a reliever realizes that, that the pressure is not on you as a pitcher, you already have the lead, the pressure is squarely on the hitter, they're the ones who have to score, so like I said, if you get ahead, then you just continue to expand. You don't get outs with strikes, you get outs with balls."
FBb: So did working in the set-up role and moving to the closer's role better prepare Clippard for working the ninth inning?
Mitch Williams: "Yeah, I think so. I think that he's done a great job of learning it this year. He's got a very good breaking ball, a good changeup and an overpowering fastball. So the key for him is to understand how important strike one is. Once you throw strike one as a closer, the at bat should be over essentially."
FBb: What do the Nationals as a team have to do now to keep hold of first, hold off the Braves and get to the postseason?
Mitch Williams: "They just have to do what they've done all year. Go out and play solid baseball. They don't have to do anything more, anything less. Just go out and do what has gotten you here."
FBb: Is Davey Johnson the right man with his own history to lead this club and keep them focused?
Mitch Williams: "Davey has been there and done it, yeah, I think they've got the right man managing that club."
FBb: Minus Strasburg, the Nats still have a strong rotation. Can Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler get it done in the post season?
Mitch Williams: "They're still capable of winning, there's no question. Because all four of those guys have better-than-average stuff. But they're going to have to step up and step up big."
FBb: If you're Strasburg and you are shut down, how does that affect your thoughts on the organization going forward?
Mitch Williams: "If it was me, it would have to be at gunpoint. There is zero chance that I'm going to go quietly on that deal."
FBb: Do you think he should step up and at least let them know what his opinion is before they make the decision?
Mitch Williams: "Absolutely, I think the player, as long as he's honest, the player should be able to tell them. If he goes to them and says, 'Look, I'm fatigued,' then yeah, it makes sense to shut him down, but if he's not fatigued, it makes no sense."
FBb: As a player though, can you be honest with yourself and overlook the fact that you want to help the team in the postseason and pitch in it yourself to do what you can to help your team?
Mitch Williams: "Yeah, I think so. I think you can do that. Stephen knows his body."
FBb: Thanks for your time, Mitch.