Matt Williams was asked after Saturday night's loss about the decision to stick with rookie right-hander Joe Ross in the top of the seventh inning against hot-hitting New York Mets' first baseman Lucas Duda in what was then a 2-1 game in the Nationals' favor. Duda sat out of the series opener against Washington and lefty Gio Gonzalez Friday night, popping out in a pinch hit appearance in extra innings, but he started Saturday night's game on a bit of a run in the last week, apparently inspired by a frank talk he had with manager Terry Collins after the acquisition of both Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe in a July 24th trade with Atlanta.
"The day we had the conversation you could see the look in his eye," Collins told reporters.
"You could just tell. He looked at you and he nods and I said, 'Listen, you've got to start producing some runs or we're going to find somebody else.' And he said, 'I got it.' And you've seen the results."
After he walked in his first at bat against Nats' right-hander Joe Ross and homered to center on a 90 mph sinker the second time up in the fourth, Duda was 8 for his last 25 with seven home runs and a double in eight games after the Mets' deal with the Braves.
His first home run of the night and 19th of the season cut the Nationals' 2-0 lead in half and it stayed that way through six and a half innings with Duda due to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning.
Ross was up to 84 pitches after six innings, having given up just two hits and the one run on Duda's home run to that point, so Williams sent him back out to face Duda again.
"He's got the lead," the Nats' skipper told reporters after the game. "He's at 84 pitches. I mean, he just went through the last inning fine. Standard decision as far as I'm concerned. He's got the lead 2-1 and at 84, pitching well."
"I felt good," Ross told reporters. "A little tired from running around the bases and coming in. But I felt good, felt fine the whole game."
The 85th pitch Ross threw, a 93 mph sinker outside and low, ended up in the left-center field seats as Duda sent his second home run of the game into the PartyCity.com Deck in Citi Field and tied the game up at 2-2.
"He was hitting the ball hard," Ross said.
"Both home runs, they were okay pitches, I mean, I wouldn't say down the middle by any means, but obviously he's got a lot of power. I guess I kind of learned my lesson. Be a little more careful next time, but he had a hell of a game."
One out later, Kelly Johnson doubled and knocked Ross out of the game. Casey Janssen came on and retired the next two batters to keep it tied after seven innings.
Williams faced another tough decision in the eighth. It was still tied up at 2-2. With three of the four batters lined up for the Mets left-handers, the Nationals' manager went with veteran lefty Matt Thornton, who took the mound with a .167/.184/.188 line against left-handed batters this season and a .205/.286/.295 line against righties.
Curtis Granderson doubled to start the frame, lining a fastball to right field, and one out later, with Granderson still on second after a groundout to the mound by Daniel Murphy, new Mets' outfielder Yoenis Cespedes stepped in.
Williams made the decision to walk Cespedes, a career .249/.316/.452 hitter against left-handers who's struggled to hit lefties this season (.183/.236/.329 in 89 PAs) in favor of a matchup with the left-handed swinging Duda, a career .228/.303/.359 hitters vs lefties, who had a .298/.353/.543 line against left-handers in 102 PAs this season before the at bat.
Cespedes, for one, wasn't expecting the intentional walk.
"I was surprised," he told reporters through an interpreter, as quoted by ESPN NY's Adam Rubin. "I didn’t think for a minute they were going to walk me."
"I've been in Matt's shoes," Mets' skipper Terry Collins said. "And that's not a good feeling, when you've got a guy we brought in and obviously one of the great hitters in the game and you've got to walk him to get to face a guy who's red hot. That's a tough situation, but I certainly understand that's what you've got to do. You've got to make a decision what you think is the best for you club and go for it."
Thornton got ahead 1-2 on Duda, but left a slider up and out over the plate that the Mets' first baseman lined to left and over Jayson Werth's head for an RBI double that gave New York a 3-2 lead that held up.
"We've got confidence in [Thornton] any time he faces a lefty," Williams said after the loss.
"Tonight it didn't happen for him, but he's been there a million times, so we get an opportunity to get him back in there tomorrow, we'll do it."
"Granderson got a fastball up," Williams continued, "and then Duda, [Thornton] had him two strikes and hung a breaking ball to him, and he he hit it the other way."
The Nationals dropped their second straight to the Mets, who pulled within a game of the NL East leaders with one to go in Citi Field tomorrow night. Should Williams have pitched to Cespedes and hoped to get the second out then dealt with Duda after that with a right-hander? Duda had a .219/.337/.426 line against right-handers going into the game. Williams had Aaron Barrett warming, though not quite ready, and Drew Storen in the pen. Did he do the right thing in going for the lefty vs lefty matchup in spite of Duda's numbers vs lefties this year? More importantly, can the Nationals salvage the series finale?
We talked about Matt Williams' tough decisions, the Nationals' loss, the solid start by Joe Ross and more on the latest edition of Nats Nightly: