Two themes have emerged early this season with the Nationals: After a spring focused on defense, the Nationals have made a major league-leading 15 errors and their starting pitchers have a 5.06 ERA, fifth highest in the majors. Manager Matt Williams has given each of these trends some thought.
He stayed up late Sunday night talking about the team’s defense with defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier. Williams has noticed the team pressing while on defense. How can the Nationals address the defensive mistakes?
“One, you don’t make a big deal out of it,” Williams said. “You look at and say it’s kinda silly stuff. It’s not picking up a grounder to the outfield. One of them was the transfer rule. If we make a big deal of it, it seems to compound itself. We take extra grounders every day. We do extra work whenever we can. For the first 14 games of the season, I think we’ve had extra seven times. It’s not that we’re not paying attention to it. It’s just that it’s happened.
“That being said, I don’t want to make too much of it. But we want to stop it at the same time. ‘Guys, relax, play the game and just be yourself’ is my message to them. It seems to me as if right now, through these first few games, it’s been a little pressing. They’ve pressed a little bit about it. I just want them to relax and play and it’ll take care of itself. We’re working every day. We had early work done on it yesterday. We’ve done it twice on this road trip. We’ve done it a few times at home. We’ll continue to do it. It’s part of our process. In that regard, I think it’s a little bit of an aberration. It’ll get better.”
Concerning the Nationals early starting pitching woes, Williams did more than just reflect on it, the team evaluated the poor starts to games. The Nationals are last in the majors with an 11.57 ERA in the first inning and 9.64 ERA in the second inning. The starters have logged the equivalent of only 5 1/3 innings per start, the third lowest rate in baseball, which is taxing the bullpen.
On Tuesday night, after Stephen Strasburg struggled, put the Nationals in a 6-0 deficit early and threw only four innings, two of the Nationals late-inning relievers had to throw in blowout loss. Tyler Clippard threw the seventh inning and Rafael Soriano appeared in the eighth. Valuable set-up man Clippard has eight appearances, two behind the major league leader, and had to pitch on Tuesday because of the stress on the rest of the bullpen.
“We’ve gone through all of it,” Williams said. “We’ve looked at how [the starters have] warmed up and has there been any changes. And over the last three years there hasn’t been. They do the same thing as they always do. [Tuesday] night is an example of Stras not getting the ball where he wanted to and leaving it over the middle of the plate and leaving it up a little bit. That’s what happens.”