Welcome to the day of the first Spring Training game of the season. It will be Matt Williams’ first day managing the Nats, but it will give us absolutely no hints as to his managerial style. This is early Spring Training and it will be fun because we’ll get to see a bunch of minor league players and mass eight man switches, but when it comes to meaning these games have none. There are position battles to be won, but don’t kid yourself into think Spring Training stats will be the deciding factor. How the player has worked in practice and their overall career record will have more to do with who is chosen as well as how they fit in with Mike Rizzo’s and Matt Williams’ plan for the roster. These games are just fun teasers for the meaningful games that are still a month away.
Spring Training games have a flow to them. A rhythm that is out of step with regular season baseball. It isn’t regular season baseball. It is barely the same sport. A pitcher will start the game, get his work in, and make way for another pitcher to get his work it. Performance is meaningless. It is about building arm strength and working on stuff. For this reason how Matt Williams is going to use the bullpen will remain a mystery until the regular season begins and if things go right with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister, Matt Williams is going to have a very easy job using the Nats bullpen. The first seven innings of most game for him could be spent in a hammock and the Nats would be just fine if those starting pitchers do what is expected of them.
As far as the offensive aspect of his managerial style that will also remain a mystery. I personally expect to see the Nats running a lot on the bases and laying down a good number of bunts, but that doesn’t mean that is what they will do in the regular season. The one thing Matt Williams has preached all Spring Training is preparation, and there is no better time to prepare for high risk plays than when the outcomes of the games don’t count.
When it comes right down to it today is going to be fun. Washington Nationals baseball is going to be played, but it won’t matter one bit. It is a meaningless game that will give us no insight into the biggest question looming over the 2014 season. It can be argued that Davey Johnson’s lackadaisical attitude harmed the Nats in 2013 and so far Matt Williams feels very different, but there are a lot of questions waiting to be answered. He seems like a type of manager the players can relate to and one that can hold the clubhouse, but how is he going to be managing a game?
Managing the team is the far more important aspect of a manager’s job. Motivating the players and getting every ounce of talent out of a roster is the most important thing a manager does, but they also have to fill out a line-up card, decide when a starting pitcher should come out of the game, and which relievers to use. None of that can be answered in Spring Training, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an important day. It is the return of Washington Nationals baseball and the first game Matt Williams will serve as manager.