VIERA, Fla. (AP) A play was diagrammed during a team meeting, which reminded the center fielder of football more than baseball. The player hoping to be the starting second baseman spent most of his time at shortstop. Jayson Werth kept using the word ”intense.”
It was the day ”Mattitude” was born.
Friday was the first Washington Nationals full squad workout under new manager Matt Williams. A week of working with pitchers and catchers had already spread the word that he’s big on structure on motivation; now everyone has had a taste of it for themselves.
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”You get those people that are intimidating,” Werth said. ”He can be intimidating, I bet, but so far he hasn’t been. Right now it’s just intense. We’ll stick with that.”
Before the players took the field, a projection screen was brought into the clubhouse so that the new ”defensive coordination” coach Mark Weidemaier, using a long pointer stick, could explain how to field a bunt.
”It pretty much was like a football play,” Span said. ”They had arrows for where everybody should be. They even had an arrow for the center fielder where I should be backing up second base.”
Then they went outside and practiced what had been preached. Williams said he prefers that method to the more familiar procedure of explaining drills during the actual workout. If players have to stand around and listen to a coach in the middle of practice, the manager explained, then they have to warm up again to get going.
”He didn’t just think about this last night,” Span said. ”You can tell he’s ready to go. … Ain’t nothing worse than going into a battle without a plan.”
Also familiar by now are the daily mottos that Williams posts above the players’ detailed workout schedule. Friday was the tried and true ”Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” but Dan Rosenblatt, a season ticket-holder from Alexandria, Va., came up with something snazzier that’s bound to catch on. He wore a Nationals jersey with Williams’ No. 9 on the back with the word ”Mattitude,” a spinoff of the Nationals marketing slogan ”Natitude.”
What is ”Mattitude?” Span offered a hint when he relayed Williams’ message to the team during the first meeting.
”What is our DNA as a team? We’ve got to establish that now in spring training,” Span said. ”We want to be known for playing the game the right way, hustling, making other teams feel uncomfortable when they play us. We don’t want any teams to like to see us on the schedule.”
There isn’t much lineup intrigue for the Nationals at the start of camp. The only genuine starting position battle was supposed to be at second base between Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa – Williams had declared it an ”open competition” – but Day 1 offered every indication that the job is Rendon’s to lose. Espinosa opened up as the backup shortstop, a possible precursor to a role as a utility middle infielder, an idea further reinforced when Williams said Espinosa will get starts at both second and shortstop during spring training.
Williams’ schedule even includes specified time for the players to sign autographs, but his well-planned timetable apparently threw Bryce Harper for a loop. The young slugger didn’t have time for his usual pre-workout batting cage session and had trouble getting loose on the field, so he cut short batting practice and left the field early. Williams said that’s part of a new manager having to learn his players’ routines.
Williams’ predecessor, Davey Johnson, would say anything and everything about his players, but Williams plays it much closer to the vest. Williams sounded more like a football coach when he gave a vague answer about pitcher Ross Ohlendorf’s lack of bullpen sessions; it took Ohlendorf himself to confirm he had a minor discomfort in his side.
The Nationals are also getting a vibe on Williams’ sense of humor. His sessions with reporters have already included a riff on potted meat – Williams had never heard of it until given a can by one of his coaches – and the need for infielders to be nimble: ”I always ask the infielders if they can dance or not. … If they can’t dance, we need to get them lessons.”
”He’s not going to be a drill sergeant like a lot of people said he’s going to be. But he’s not going to be country club or anything like that,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. ”If you’re supposed to be somewhere, be there on time. Get your work done, make sure it’s good work and then get out. That’s how it should be.”
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