Prepared Williams conducts first full-squad workout
New manager has high expectations for Nationals, demands focus from players
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals had their first full-squad workout under new manager Matt Williams on Thursday and, as shortstop Ian Desmond put it, "Everything was crisp."
The day started with Williams holding a team meeting at 8:30 a.m. ET. Williams told his players they were going to focus on fundamentals. He also asked them to be patient and trust what he and the coaching staff are trying to convey.
The projection screen was then put up in the clubhouse and defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier went over bunt plays with the team.
The talk wasn't just directed toward infielders, pitchers and catchers. Center fielder Denard Span, for example, had to pay attention, too.
"I'm not an infielder, but we went over all the bunt defenses," Span said. "It was pretty much like a football play. It had arrows where everybody should be. They even had an arrow for the center fielder. I end up backing up second base. You can tell [Williams] put a lot of time into the things that we are going to be doing. He didn't think about this last night. You could tell he is ready to go."
Williams emphasized that he wants to improve the team's defense, which finished 24th in the Major Leagues last year. The team went over defensive drills at its Minor League complex.
"The reason behind making it known that we want to improve defensively is just so that we have that in mind," Williams said. "It's important to us to concentrate on playing good defense behind our pitching staff and giving ourselves a chance, making sure we make the routine play. Making sure we know what we're doing on the other side of the baseball, too."
Williams found time to observe the bullpen sessions. He was impressed by how newcomer Doug Fister can throw all of his pitches for strikes. Williams even talked about how intense Rafael Soriano was during his second bullpen session of the spring.
"He worked on all of his pitches," Williams said.
While there were no injuries to report, outfielder Bryce Harper had his batting practice cut short. According to Williams, Harper wasn't able to get into his usual routine of hitting practice early in the morning because of the long team meeting.
"Today, he didn't get to [hit in the cage early this morning]," Williams said. "So he got out there and he thought, 'You know what? I'm not going to start bad habits at this point. I'm going to make sure that I'm prepared every day.' But there's nothing wrong with him. He just didn't get a chance to do that today. We'll start it again tomorrow."
The Nats are favored to win the National League East title this year because of their starting pitching and balanced offense.
Last year, then manager Davey Johnson predicted World Series or bust. It turned out to be a bust; the Nationals finished in second place behind the Braves and didn't play in the postseason.
Williams is glad that big things are expected from his team.
"Well, I think expectations are good, and especially with a team like this. You can't get away from that," Williams said. "What we have to make sure is that we embrace that part of it and realize that expectations are going to be there, and that's a good thing because they wouldn't be if we didn't have such a good bunch of guys and all this talent.
"Let's embrace it, let's understand it and let's work as hard as we can to fulfill those [promises]. I'd tell you that the guys in there have even higher expectations than anybody else. So that being said, that's part of spring for us. It's part of us going through this process and understanding that if we do little things within the course of a game, then we have a chance every night. And that's the objective."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.