Back when he was a player, Matt Williams was meticulous in his approach to baseball, always seeking answers for every possible in-game scenario. Throughout his first season as the Nationals’ manager, he’s expected his players to aspire to the same mindset.
It’s worked well in year one.
Williams’ influence can be seen everywhere: The Nationals, despite their recent three-game skid, are one of the hottest teams in baseball with the postseason just a month away, winning 14 of their past 20 games.
Williams, often described as a bulldog, believes in being aggressive and applying pressure. That’s led to slight increases per game in stolen bases, hits and RBIs this year.
“It’s part of our DNA,” Williams said. “We established that in spring training. It’s part of the way we’ll have to play if we’re going to be successful. It doesn’t mean we’re going to run wild but we try to pick opportunities that are given to us.”
Williams learned some of his managerial strategies as a player in Arizona when Buck Showalter was the manager from 1998 to 2000. When the Nationals and the Orioles, Showalter’s current team, faced off earlier this year, Showalter recalled Williams’ attentiveness as a player.
“Matt was a watcher and a listener,” Showalter said. “He could stump the managers as good as anybody [with questions].”
Having played for 17 seasons, Williams understands the highs and lows that come with the game. He’s not too tough on his players when things go wrong, though he’s not lenient, and he gives his guys the freedom to play within their strengths.
“My job is to understand that regardless what happens today we have another one tomorrow,” Williams said. “We have to be prepared for that. The fact we allow them to take ownership about the way they go about it is important.”
Williams trusts that his players will come through when asked to, something he said he learned from Showalter. With Williams placing faith in his players in key situations, it’s only natural that the guys in the clubhouse are doing the same with one another.
“If one guy doesn’t get the job done, the next guy is doing to do it,” utility player Scott Hairston said. “Early in the year we were pressing a lot, all of us were trying to do too much. That time has passed.”