One of Manager Matt Williams’s points of emphasis this spring was defense. When he was an infield and third base coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, they committed the fourth-fewest errors in baseball and two players won Gold Gloves. Williams wanted to bring the same focus on defense to Washington, so he brought defensive coordinator/advance coach Mark Weidemaier with him. The Nationals made 107 errors last season, tied for the seventh most in baseball, but Williams and Weidemaier want the team to be a top-five defense in 2014.
Through 13 games this season, the Nationals have committed 13 errors, tied for the third most in baseball with the Marlins and White Sox. Only the Phillies and Rangers have made more with 14 errors each.
The Nationals committed none in Monday’s series-opener in Miami, but were charged with seven in three weekend games in Atlanta. Williams and Weidemaier stayed up late Sunday night discussing, among other things, how the defense has played so far. And Williams believes it is simply an early hiccup.
“The way I look at it: errors have been made but not because we’re out of position or for lack of preparation,” he said. “Everybody gets their grounders every day. Everybody works hard every day. You think about and say, ‘Is it an aberration?’ I would tend to think that it is. The compounds itself when things aren’t going your way. It generally had a tendency to do that on itself.
“All that being said, we work hard at it every day. We do extra work, we do early work. It’s not anything to point a finger to. It’s just a question of the way it is and has been. What we can do today is start again today and move forward. I think we’re in good spots. We’ve been able to make good plays when we needed to. There have been some hiccups. It’s not for lack of their work or their preparation nor ours. Hopefully things will get much better. I think they will.”
Ian Desmond leads the Nationals with five errors: two for throwing mistakes and three for fielding miscues, although one in Friday’s game could easily have been ruled a base hit on a tough play in the hole. Bryce Harper, Nate McLouth and Ryan Zimmerman each have committed two errors. (McLouth’s second error was awarded when he dropped a ball on the transfer from his glove to his throwing hand after a catch, a rule that will be emphasized this season by umpires.)
“We haven’t caught the ball the way we should,” Weidemaier said. “It’s nothing to panic about. I think the alignments have been good. I think the ball has been hit at guys and the ball has been hit in between some guys. It’s not that we haven’t been in the right spot, it’s that we haven’t made the plays.”
One of the worst parts of the Nationals’ weekend in Atlanta was their defense: they committed seven of their 13 errors against the Braves.
“I think fielding slumps are like hitting slumps,” Weidemaier said. “And I do think that we get a little uptight against Atlanta. I think there’s something to that. The record probably indicates that. But I think there are slumps at times. The rhythm is a little bit off. The fields are little different. It’s certainly something we need to clean up obviously. It’ll be one of the keys to our success. And we’ve preached it since Day One. It’s a critical area for us. To be overly concerned about it now? No. But we certainly need to sharpen it up.”
To do that, Weidemaier said the team and players can and will do extra early defensive work. He wants players to be less tentative and more comfortable. Some mistakes, however, have simply been mental hiccups and at inopportune times.
“When you lose, it really stands,” Williams said. “It’s not where we want to be and I think we’ll get much better at it.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Harrisburg 4, Altoona 3: Blake Schwartz allowed one run on four hits over five innings. Tyler Herron fired two scoreless and picked up the win. Michael Taylor went 3 for 5, while Matt Skole and Rick Hague each added two hits.
Potomac 6, Carolina 5: Brian Rauh allowed two runs over five innings and Robert Benincasa earned the win. Kevin Keyes and Brandon Miller each homered, and Khayyan Norfork and Stephen Perez each had two hits.
Delmarva 9, Hagerstown 2: Nick Pivetta allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings. John Simms gave up one run over 4 2/3 innings. Wilmer Difo went 2 for 2 with a walk.