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Washington Nationals Matt Williams pushed right bullpen buttons Friday

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Nats manager Matt Williams has taken a lot of criticism for his handling of the bullpen so far this season. On Friday, he showed a sense of urgency that we haven't seen often enough.

I've hammered Matt Williams often in this column, so it's only fair to give him some recognition when he does something right. His handling of the bullpen on Friday was terrific.
I've hammered Matt Williams often in this column, so it's only fair to give him some recognition when he does something right. His handling of the bullpen on Friday was terrific.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past month, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams has had to deal with an awful lot of speculation about the temperature of his seat in the dugout. Both Williams and GM Mike Rizzo have expressed some frustration recently with how often Williams moves are being analyzed to death. As one of many who are guilty of picking apart Williams decision making, it's only fair to turn around and give him credit when he does show some urgency with his bullpen management. He did so on Friday night.

I'm not quite going to gush about Williams' performance Friday night, as some did:

Williams did push a lot of buttons last night. Many of them were the right buttons, and we certainly can't complain about the end result. It would certainly be an exaggeration to say that he pushed all the right buttons, though. The handling of the bullpen last night was fantastic, but if not for a clutch Matt den Dekker RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning, Williams is probably getting pummeled in (at least) this space for having Ian Desmond bunt Trea Turner over to third in the ninth inning. That was a questionable decision that backfired when Wilson Ramos followed it with a three pitch strikeout. Thankfully, den Dekker bailed the Nats out and saved the day.... and yes, Trea Turner would have scored easily from second on den Dekker's single had the Nats not handed away the first out of the inning.

I don't want to spend a lot of time harping on that decision, though, apart from saying that Williams wasn't perfect. He didn't push all the right buttons. It's unfair to expect him to push all the right buttons, though I often do take that approach in this column. The Nats are on a three game winning streak. The Mets lost last night, allowing the Nats to pull to within five games in the division. The two teams will meet for a three game set starting on Monday. I'm not ordinarily a sunshine and rainbows "rah rah" type, but there's a time to be critical and a time to be positive.

This is one of those times to be positive. Even if the Mets don't lose either of their remaining games to the Marlins, the Nats have a chance to trim the deficit in the division all the way down to two games on this homestand simply by taking care of business. Not to be superstitious, but let's not bring any negative energy to the party right now. Apart from the obvious elation of a walkoff win, the most positive thing to take away from Friday's game was that Williams finally showed some urgency with his handling of the bullpen.

  • He didn't hesitate in going to Matt Thornton to replace Tanner Roark in the fifth inning when the Braves mounted a threat.
  • He used Drew Storen in a tie game in the eighth inning. Even though that didn't pan out, it was the right call to go to one of his bullpen aces.
  • He used Papelbon trailing 2-1 in the ninth inning. I've hammered Williams a couple of times in this column for going to his fifth or sixth best reliever for the ninth inning of a one run game and letting the game get away from him. Williams didn't do that and kept the game manageable. It paid off in the bottom half of the inning.
  • He used Papelbon for two innings, which... gosh... You mean that the Nats best relievers are allowed to get more than three outs?! Not only did he allow Papelbon to throw the tenth inning before dropping down the reliever depth chart, but he also showed the foresight to double switch Papelbon into the game in the ninth inning so that leaving him in for multiple innings was an option.

Williams did some things many of us have been asking him to do all season long on Friday. He used his best relievers to extend the game. He extended one of his best relievers beyond an inning. He even thought ahead, double switching so that extending Papelbon was an option. We can only hope that these are signs of things to come from Williams as the Nats try and claw their way back into the playoff picture and make this a race in the NL East. He wasn't perfect, but he did a lot of things right.

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