LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A first-time manager, Matt Williams of the Washington Nationals says he has taken the pulse of his new club, figuratively, and he likes the results.
Talking to reporters Tuesday at the winter meetings, Williams said the Nationals are motivated by what happened in 2013 when the team underachieved and missed the playoffs.
"They want to make amends for that. They want to make sure that doesn't happen again. And that's the players talking, which is great," said Williams, who coached for the Diamondbacks before being hired by Nats general manager Mike Rizzo. "So you sit there as the manager, man, these guys are on it. They're ready to go."
Williams is excited about the lineup the Nats can unfurl. Not only the brute force brought by sluggers Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos and Adam LaRoche, but also their collective look. Several of those players — notably Werth, Harper and La Roche — sport beards. Not surprisingly, Werth is particularly "shaggy" right now, Williams said.
"We've got the ability to have a couple of big, hairy guys, no pun intended, in the middle of the lineup, without naming names," Williams said. "We can stack lefty, righty, if that gives you any indication how something like that may work. So there's lots of options."
Williams, it should be noted, has a clean-shaven head.
But ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg is big and hairy in his own right. And he's 100 percent healthy, Williams said, after having surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. Harper is recovering well from knee surgery, Williams said, and the same goes for LaRoche and his elbow.
"Yeah, his rehab is going phenomenal," Williams said of Strasburg. "Everything checks out from a medical standpoint. He is ready to go, Day 1 of spring training, full bore. Bryce will be the same. I talked with Adam before he left for the USO tour. He's been in the woods pulling back his bow (and arrow), so his elbow is in good shape.
"Everybody will be good. The good thing about the offseason surgeries this year, is they were cleanup surgeries, they weren't major surgeries. So it's stuff that is easily rehabbed and they should be ready."
To keep them ready in the upcoming season, Williams says he plans to rest Harper, Ramos and others accordingly — whether they like it or not. Harper wasn't always up front with the previous manager, Davey Johnson, on how he was feeling. Williams says it's his own responsibility to make sure the players are rested properly.
"I'm going to have to make those decisions," Williams said. "I'm not afraid to because I understand the grind of 162 (games), and I also understand the grind of making it and winning the World Series, as well. So it's a lot of games. So we have to make sure we're mindful of their health, if we're going to get to where we want to get to."
And just because the Nationals stumbled in 2013, he's not afraid to reach back into the recent past for some help. He has invited Johnson to spring training. Johnson hasn't accepted yet — probably to avoid stepping on Williams' toes — but he's welcome anyway.
"I asked him to be present and he's still in an advisory role with the team," said Williams, who noted that Johnson lives near the team's spring complex in Florida. "I asked him to come into the office and sit down and talk baseball. And I'd love to pick his brain. Hopefully he accepts that and we can do that."
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