Matt Williams’s thoughts on the Nationals lineup, and more on catcher collisions


 (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

As Matt Williams has started to tinker with and formulate his lineup, the theme of variety has stuck. Aside from Denard Span at the top, Williams seems willing to mix and match his batting order based on any number of factors: recent performance, a pitching matchup, how tired or fresh certain players are.

One scenario Williams discussed last week involved Bryce Harper hitting fifth. Depending on the situation, Williams liked the idea of Harper hitting fifth because it would allow for plentiful RBI chances and because it would free him up to steal more bases – he would be less inclined to risk an out running with a middle-of-the-order hitter at the plate.

If Harper batted fifth, that would likely mean three right-handed hitters – Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth in some order – stacked together between Span and Harper. Williams would not mind that, based on the situation. It would force opponents to burn two left-handed relievers to face Span and Harper, unless a manager wanted to let a lefty face three good right-handed hitters.

“Generally, it’s when a lefty is on the mound,” Williams said. “The lefty-lefty matchup is most important. Right-handers grew up facing right-handers all the time. That’s really not as much of a concern. What I really don’t want to do is stack lefties and give the opposition a chance to matchup in a situation. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s the mindset going in.

“Generally, your right-handed power guys hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup. You may stack righties there and follow with a lefty. The good thing for us is, we’ve got the ability to do that. Which could work in our advantage.”

While Williams’s stance on stacking right-handers in the middle of a lineup lends appeal to Harper hitting fifth, Williams left no doubt: Harper may bat fifth some games, but he’s not the Nationals’ No. 5 hitter.

“To be clear about it, it doesn’t mean Bryce is going to hit fifth,” Williams said. “He’s going to hit all over the top of that lineup. But there may be days that he does. We’re looking at it from a team aspect and what we can on that given day to give ourselves the best chance to win. Some days, it could be two. Some days, it could be five. Some days, it could be three and four, too. It all depends on how we’re looking at that point, how we’re playing and what our matchup may be.”

**

In today’s Post, we have a story on the Nationals’ pondering the proposed rule change banning collisions at home plate, which could be approved any day now. There’s some really insightful perspective from current Nationals catchers, Bob Boone and Denard Span. The story was cut short for space reasons – those darn Olympics need to get done. If you want to read what was chopped off, here was the end, picking up from where the story in the paper (and online) left off:

The nature of a play at the plate makes it difficult to legislate. No rule can eliminate an outfielder’s throw veering five or 10 feet up the third base line. The suddenness of the play – a ball skipping in, a runner barreling home, a catcher rooting his foot in the ground – forces instinct to take over.

“Everything happens in that last 15 feet,” Snyder said. “That’s a quick 15 feet.”

Some players questioned the motivation behind the change. For years, defenseless catchers absorbed blows and lost careers. “Look at Ray Fosse,” Boone said, noting the catcher whom Pete Rose knocked out in the 1970 All-Star Game. But the debate about changing the rule came to the fore only after San Francisco Giants superstar Buster Posey tore ligaments due to a nasty collision.

“Follow the money,” Hill said. “We don’t lose any money. We get hit, we get hurt, we don’t lose any money. Owners do.”

The random, reverberating aftermath from any one collision at that 17-inch slab can be observed in the middle of the Nationals clubhouse, where Hill and Snyder, two non-roster invitees, locker next to one another.

In 2004, Hill was in second season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He blocked the plate as burly outfielder Ty Wigginton rumbled home. Before the ball arrived, Wigginton plowed over Hill.

“It two ballplayers playing hard,” Hill said. “There was a collision. We both got hurt. One lost time. One didn’t. That was it. If I went back to do that same play again, I would do it the same way.”

Hill’s ankle bent and his ligaments tore. He had surgery 10 days later and missed the rest of the season. The Diamondbacks called up a catcher from Class AA to replace him named Chris Snyder.

**

The Nationals will begin live batting practice today, a rote exercise that, for baseball-starved fans, is like manna from heaven. Matt Williams’s workout quote of the day:  “Perfection is unattainable, but the pursuit of perfection is imperative.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.

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Adam Kilgore · February 21, 2014

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