The Washington Post

Explaining Matt Williams’s ninth-inning strategy

Adam LaRoche. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Trailing 2-1, the Nationals rallied in the ninth inning against the Phillies and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond each singled with one out. Bryce Harper came to the plate.

It seemed like a good time to pinch run for LaRoche. A speedier runner could score more easily from second on a single or force a close plate at the plate. Desmond even asked Manager Matt Williams from first base if he was going to pinch run for LaRoche. But Williams didn’t.

Harper put together a good nine-pitch at-bat against Papelbon, fouling off three pitches and taking some close ones. Harper struck out swinging on a nasty splitter. With two outs and Asdrubal Cabrera coming to bat, Williams pinch ran for LaRoche.

After the game, he offered a reasonable explanation. With one out, the Phillies outfield was playing no-doubles defense. But with two, they played in. Cabrera struck out on three pitches to end the game.

“With Bryce out there, their outfield defense is deep,” Williams said. “What they don’t want there is a ball in the gap. With Asdrubal up, they’re going to try to cut down the run at the plate. So if Bryce can get a base hit there, we’re able to leave Adam in the game.

“But once there’s two outs, they’re going to play a little tighter, and we definitely have to score that run. So we decided to go ahead and pinch-run Danny for him to make sure we had better speed. If we tie that game there, then we take our chances later on. But with Bryce up there, they’re playing much deeper.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.



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James Wagner · August 1, 2014