Mark Lerner: Nats will be more disciplined in 2014


(Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

As James Wagner ably reported this week, Matt Williams will run a regimented spring training, which will be something of a break from the recent past.

One of the most noticeable differences so far between Williams and former manager Davey Johnson has been their spring training philosophies. Johnson, a veteran manager at a different stage of his career, believed in easing players into spring training, being more lenient with veteran players, and holding shorter workouts in the morning so that players could leave before lunch time to rest. That approach worked in 2012, after the Jim Riggleman era and when the Nationals won the National League East crown. Williams, on the other hand, has talked about working hard in spring training and planning every minute.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be tough,” Williams said. “Regimented, yeah, that’s a good way to put it. I get all bunched up if I don’t have a plan. Oftentimes, that plan is completely wrong but at least I have a plan. It’ll change and we blew it and all of those things. But at least we know going in we have it all mapped out.”

Will this make a difference in April? Who knows. Craig Stammen told Wagner that the team maybe “got a little too relaxed and … came into the season a little too loose” last year, while Jayson Werth argued that last spring “wasn’t anything different than what we did the year before when we won 98 games.”

Regardless, put principal owner Mark Lerner in the “maybe it’ll help” camp.

“I think that the way we handled spring training [in 2013] was not as good as it could be,” Lerner told 106.7 The Fan’s Holden Kushner last weekend. “I think it wasn’t as disciplined as it could be. I think we’ll go into this year, Matt is very meticulous and like the Marines he has every day planned out, and I think you need that. You’ve got to play every game from April 1 like it’s a playoff game, and you just can’t go in there [thinking] you’ll get moving in May, June. It doesn’t happen that way. So I think it was a lot of lessons learned by everybody in the organization, that you have to come in 1000 percent prepared.”

Later, Lerner talked about meeting with the five finalists for the managerial position; Kushner asked if he had a standard first question, and spring training came up again.

“Mike [Rizzo] kind of led the thing, and we just talked about them and their backgrounds,” Lerner said. “I was especially interested how they would handle spring training, how they would make adjustments during the season, certain things during a game, just to hear how they would approach things. And Matt just blew us away: he was so prepared, and just had every duck in a row. I just think that he hands-down won it, and I think that the fans will love him. Like I said, he has that Marine way about him.

“I call him my Bill Cowher in a baseball uniform, because I’ve always been a big fan of Bill Cowher and the way he approaches things, a no-nonsense kind of guy,” Lerner said. “I think the players respect him, one because of his long career and his successful career, but he’s paid his dues. He’s been in all levels of the game, including being a broadcaster. So he’s ready, and I think he’ll take us to the next level.”

Lerner also hastened to reassure Kushner that Williams was not no-nonsense in an aggressive way.

“He’s a pussycat. He really is,” the owner joked. “But it’s funny, the first time I met him was last summer behind the batting cage at Nationals Park when the D-backs were in town. Twenty seconds. Mike introduced me to him. And sometimes you meet a guy and you shake his hand, look him in the eye and say, I’d like to know more about that guy or he’s an impressive guy. And that’s the impression I got from Matt. Not even thinking about managers at that point; just as a human being. He just blew me away. Just hi, how are you, nice to meet you, but the way he looks at you, he has an air of confidence about him that is unmistakable. I think we made the right choice, no doubt about it.”

Kushner also asked Lerner if it’s again World Series or Bust in 2014.

“I’m not touching that one,” Lerner answered. “Obviously we go into every season wanting to win, and we take ‘em one game at a time, but I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make the playoffs this year, personally. But I think we have the team to do it.”

(First transcribed by Chris Lingebach, as always)

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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