Rosenthal: Matt Williams no quick fix for Nats’ problems

The Washington Nationals are 11-9 under first-year manager Matt Williams but they continue to be plagued by sloppy play and shoddy defense.

Daniel Shirey/Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Williams was known as "The Big Marine" during his playing days, and his no-nonsense approach — as opposed to the laidback approach of the man he replaced as Washington’s manager, Davey Johnson — was supposed to be just the ticket to put the talented Nationals over the top in the National League East.

But it hasn’t been so simple in the early days of Williams’ first season at the Nationals’ helm. So writes FOX Sports’ MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal.

Williams, the former D-backs third baseman and coach, pulled star Bryce Harper from a game on Sunday after failing to run out a groundball, and there have been other issues that Williams has felt compelled to address, Rosenthal writes.

"But as recently as Thursday night, following an 8-0 series-opening loss to the Cardinals, Williams held a team meeting, according to a source. He told the players their performance had been sloppy. He also told them to run balls out, noting that a few had veered off on lineouts before touching first base.

"Thus, Harper’s removal from Saturday’s game for failing to run out a groundball could not have come as a surprise to anyone in the clubhouse, including Harper himself."

The Nationals, at 11-9, are just 2½ games behind the Braves in the NL East, but Rosenthal points out that their defense has been "putrid" and says is fair to ask "whether the Nats will ever be as good as they say they are."

Rosenthal also weighs on the comments by D-backs general manager Ken Kendrick to Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley inferring that the team is falling behind in the evolving world of statistical analytics.

"I think we know we don’t have the balance I still think is the right way to go, and I think we need to recognize (that)," Kendrick said. "To this point, there are only a few teams that are starting to do exotic (defensive) shifts, which is an element of a much bigger picture of (baseball analytics) …

"We aren’t doing that because I don’t think we have studied the data at a level they’ve studied it. Now how valuable is it? I guess we’ll see. You’d like to have the information, make a judgment on how valuable it is, and either use it or not use it. We don’t have the level of information in that category that (other teams) have. I think we need to do a better job in that area."

Rosenthal’s wide-ranging notebook also ponders the Tigers’ stubborn refusal to address their glaring shortstop deficiency by signing former D-backs shortstop Stephen Drew, the dismal state of the Mets’ bullpen, the strategical considerations faced by managers when contemplating defensive shifts, the early struggles of Cincinnati speed-burner Billy Hamilton and multiple other topics.

All good stuff, as always with Rosenthal. You can read the entire piece by clicking here.