Earlier this offseason, at the winter meetings, new Nationals Manager Matt Williams admitted that he had the first 25 days of spring training mapped out in minute detail. It’s his style. He likes order, a plan and hard work. At NatsFest on Saturday, Williams, who will arrive in Viera nearly a week before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13, said he has completed his plan.
“Day 1 through 41,” Williams said. “It’s all there.”
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.”
One of the prevailing theories as to why the Nationals got off to such a slow last season is because of a lax attitude in spring. First baseman-outfielder Tyler Moore admitted at NatsFest that he was “maybe too lackadaisical” in spring training. Others, however, only partially agree. Johnson oversaw a thrilling season (2012) and a disappointing one (2013) with the same approach.
“There’s a lot of talk about how we prepared in spring training last year and some people thought we didn’t do enough or whatever was said,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “But it wasn’t anything different than what we did the year before when we won 98 games. Spring training is spring training. I don’t ever put too much weight in spring training, good or bad, no matter what happens. Obviously, you need to be healthy coming out of spring training, but even then it’s not necessarily true, I guess true. It’s spring training. Once the season starts, the season starts.”
Some players have already been impressed with how Williams carries himself and his reputation as prepared and disciplined, and they welcome that approach. Williams’ spring training is expected to feature plenty of drills.
“Davey, one of his specialties was getting teams off to a good start,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “He had a track record of doing that. Last year, that kinda didn’t happen for some reason. Maybe it is because we got a little too relaxed and we came into the season a little too loose. I don’t think Matt is gonna let that happen. He was a regimented player from what I know about him from when he played. And I think that’s how he’s gonna manage also, which I’m okay with.”
But does Williams’ plan even include sending veterans to faraway Grapefruit league destinations such as Jupiter for games against the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, nearly two hours each way?
“Oh yeah, they’ll be going,” Williams said. “We’ve got that planned. We’ve got to get them ABs. They’ve gotta play. If they don’t go, they’ll have work to do back [in Viera].”
Werth smiled when asked about Williams’ regimented plan for spring training. “We’ll have to see what it is,” he said. “He’s prepared. That’s good. He was a prepared player and a prepared coach from the guys that I’ve talked to from when he was coaching, and I think he’s going to be a prepared manager.”