Now that Spring Training is underway, Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams is meeting with reporters every day and talking about the preparation for the 2015 campaign. We've spun stories out of a number of the answers the second-year skipper has given to the press gathered in Viera, Florida, but not everything makes it into print.
We do, however, transcribe it all, so we figured we'd put together some things that didn't make it into stories in the past week.
For example: Williams spoke about Nats' center field and leadoff man Denard Span, who underwent surgery for a sports hernia this winter. Span is in camp and preparing for his third season with the Nationals.
The Nats' skipper was asked about how important Span is, and what he brings to the lineup:
"I think he's valuable in every aspect of the game," Williams said. "He's one of the guys who makes our team go. Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, who throws well, who understands how to run the bases, who steals bases.
"Last year was a fantastic season offensively and defensively and he's a leader for us. He works every day, he plays every day and certainly makes it comfortable for our pitching staff to go ahead and challenge a guy and know that it will be caught if it's hit out there. He's a gamer. He's a baseball player. I was pleased with his season last year. I'm happy for him. Certainly happy for us, he was one of the reasons we got to where we got to."
As for any restrictions? Williams said Span was cleared for all activities, but taking it slow at the start....
"He's doing everything. It's not at game speed. Nobody really is right now. But we'll monitor. He's in constant contact with me, and our coaching staff and the training staff to let us know how he's feeling. We're bothering him at the same time, asking him how he's feeling, but that's a good thing. So, he's a guy that in Spring Training likes a lot of at bats, so we have to balance those two things with regards to making sure that his legs are good and we don't have any issues with the surgery and he gets plenty of at bats."
Williams was also asked about easing up at times, and what he learned from his first year on the bench as a manager...
"As you learn the players, you understand what makes everybody tick and it's different for everbody. For me, it's about getting out of their way sometimes. Nothing changes for me though. Easing up? That's not in my vocabulary. I can't do that, because then I don't feel like we give ourselves the best chance. So we will work and we will pay attention to detail and we will do the things that we need to do. Sometimes I need to ease up on myself and say, 'Matt, get out of their way, let them go, let them play,' and not worry about it myself, because they'll take care of it from time-to-time. But that doesn't mean that we don't work. That doesn't mean that we don't prepare.
"I don't know if you guys saw, but judging by the way that they're taking grounders -- the guys out there today and the guys that have taken fly balls in the outfield. They're not even in camp yet and they're working. So that's a testament to them and to their attitude coming in."
Williams mentioned left-hander Matt Grace as someone he was interested in seeing this winter:
"I like just the way he goes about it. But he was an example yesterday of a young guy that I didn't know much and makes a good impression. That's what Spring Training is about. All of the guys are working hard. They're all out there doing everything they can do to get prepared and to do it correctly. And he's just one example of many. But yeah, he's able to control the zone. The ball moves all over the place, he's got a good breaking ball and good changeup."
Matt Thornton's back for another season with the Nationals. Williams talked about the 38-year-old left-hander as well:
"For Matt, I think what he understands is himself. As you get older as a player, you understand what you can and can't do. When you're 22, 23 years old, you think you can do everything and you probably could, but as you get up in those years it becomes very obvious to you that you will have some limitations. So, Matt knows himself, and he knows what he can do and can't do on an everyday basis to go out there and compete and gets guys out.
"It doesn't hurt that he throws the ball at 97 miles an hour and from the left side. That does not hurt, but that being said, he understands himself first and foremost."
Mike Carp has a shot at a bench spot with the Nationals, Williams talked about what the veteran offers the Nats:
"You look at two years ago with Carp-y, the bat off the bench certainly was really good. Got a chance to play at first, to play in left. So he can do both of those, that's a plus for him. But it's a steady left-handed at bat, regardless of whether it's a start or a pinch hit. He's been around long enough where he understands that and he puts together a pretty good at bat, regardless. So that's what I look for. I look for that opportunity for him. Certainly he'll get a lot of playing time in Spring Training, but he handles himself well at the plate, he's got good knowledge of the strike zone and can put together that at bat for you. And he knows that that's kind of where he's at right now and he works on that. He takes his batting practice and his work very seriously. And understands that on any given day he may get one shot and he needs to make it count."
So where is Carp going to get time?:
"First and left, but primarily at first. But he has the ability to play the outfield. He did that in Boston. So, he's got some experience out there, so he can do it."
Williams also discussed how Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann will handle their contract years?:
"We've had the discussion and their response is, 'We are Washington Nationals, we're proud of that. And we are ready to do what we can to help our team win.'
I don't think either one of them are thinking about it at this point. They want to play. They want to go out there and compete and that's where we're all at right now. What will happen will happen and there's not much we can do about it at this point other than get ready for the season and play. And they're both very focused on that, which is a really good thing. There is a lot of talk. A lot of talk during the winter time. And that's good. It means they are both very good players. They're desireable to other teams. But at the end of the day as we sit here right now, they're on our club and they're going to help us win."
One last quote. Williams talked yesterday about sizing up the Nationals' competition in the NL East:
"I think it's important to understand your opposition. With regard to that, certainly the Braves club is a different-looking club, but they've made acquisitions that they feel will help their club, so we have to be diligent in our research about them, understanding that team and when we have a chance to go against them be prepared for them.
The Mets have certainly, I know [Michael] Cuddyer a lot, from being in the National League West, the time that he was in Colorado. So he's a dynamic player. He's a professional hitter. So he certainly improves their club.
Everything you read and hear about the Phillies is that they are focused and they are ready to go and that is a powerful team. That is a really powerful team. So we have to be prepared for them as well.
And then of course, probably the biggest news came out of Miami. And they've made a lot of changes down there and will be much-improved as well. I think that, knowing all of that, it certainly makes us work harder, be mindful of all the changes and try to be as prepared as we can when we get a chance to play them."