Matt Williams gets rave reviews, players and fans alike.

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“He who holds the ball controls the game.”

AT THE END of the Davey Johnson era, the scent of stale beer and gloom filled Nationals park. The perfect season had rotted, beautiful at first, but now ugly. As fans stared down at the field watching the Nationals play a half hearted game against the Miami Marlins, losing by a score of four to two, everybody knew in their hearts that the miracles, and the “We Believe’s” had reached their end. There was no chance of a World Series, let alone a playoff berth in Washington this year. Every magazine, newspaper and blog had predicted it incorrectly. As they filed out of the stadium, one by one, leaving the game they had bought tickets to, expecting it to be a clincher, or a game where the starters didn’t play because of the berth, but instead fought for the second Wild-Card spot – and failed. We could smell victory that Opening Day against the same team, when Harper hit two bombs and Strasburg went seven innings without giving up a run. The scent of the World Series was in the air, but it was snatched away from us.

Even though the Braves and other mediocre teams defeated them many times, it was obvious that something else had to change. Immediately after the season ended, Mike Rizzo intensified the search for the new manager. This was not a bad situation to come into as a manager – in fact, this was one of the most, if not the most coveted positions to come into as a manager. The Nationals had a decent season, and were still poised to be in the playoffs the next year. Candidates included Trent Jewett, Randy Knorr, Cal Ripken Jr., and Matt Williams.

After working in the Major Leagues for 16 years as a Third Baseman for the Giants, D-Backs and Indians, he became a coach for the D-Backs in 2009. His only managing experience was in the Arizona Fall League, with a couple Nats prospects including Anthony Rendon.  Williams was close to Rizzo after

Career Stats:  BA: .268 HR: 378 RBI: 1,218 College: UNLV (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Career Stats:
BA: .268
HR: 378
RBI: 1,218
College: UNLV
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

working together in Arizona before, and was the frontrunner the whole way. He was given the job officially on October 31st. News sources immediately started searching for more information on him, and told many stories of his greatness, his World Series rings, his steroid use, and the rest of his life.

Early on, he mapped out the problems with the Nationals, every day of Spring Training, (“Day one through forty-one, it’s all there” he says) and how they could bring a title and a banner home to D.C.

As the long months between the Winter League and Pitchers and Catchers rolled on, he watched his General Manager pick up Doug Fister, Jerry Blevins, Nate McClouth and Jose Lobaton, while extending every key player. 

On Thursday, the long waiting concluded, as pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Florida. Williams had already been there for a week.

“Every pitch we make is with conviction.”

As players walked into the facility, some seeing the same thing they had been seeing for years, putting on old, familiar jerseys, while others looked somewhat lost, putting on new jerseys with new numbers and new colors, everyone was greeted warmly by the players already there, Rizzo and Williams.

Williams had already made his position very clear onto what he would do with certain players.

On Bryce Harper, he said that “He loves the way he plays the game” but at times could be “A little smarter, and not run into walls.”

On Danny Espinosa, Anthony Rendon and the Second Base job, he announced that he “Believes it’s an open competition”

On Ryan Zimmerman, he said that there would be a first baseman’s mitt in his Spring Training locker, and lone and behold, there was.

Congratulating Adam Eaton on a Home Run as Third Base Coach. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso

Congratulating Adam Eaton on a Home Run as Third Base Coach. (REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso)

And so far, the players are enjoying him.

“(His intensity) got me a little fired up” says Stephen Strasburg

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Matt” Werth announced. “I think with the playing experience and the type of guy he is, his overall baseball IQ, I think he’s going to do a good job.

Anthony Rendon played under him in the Arizona Fall League, and says that he “Likes that he brings a little fire. (He had) his opportunity to show people that he could bring out the best in his players, and I believe he did that.”

“There is a difference between control and command.”

Fans have also been raving on him all over Twitter, saying that they are confident in his abilities and how he will bring the Nats back to their fundamentals and change the attitude of this season as opposed to last year’s.

Being introduced as the new Manager at Nationals Park (Washington Post)

Being introduced as the new Manager at Nationals Park (Washington Post)

The change we see in Spring Training will not be visible to the majority of us, partially because of the fact that Spring Training should not be too intense, partially because the drills, batting practices and bullpen sessions are not visible to us.

However, one interesting thing we can see is a new thing, the “Quote of the day”.  The quotes above have been from the first three days of Spring Training. He has planned one from day one to forty one.

Many people are concerned about a young manager guiding this team, but if there is one thing that Nats fans know, it’s that Mike Rizzo makes great decisions nearly every time. The odds that this one is an exception are quite low.

“Expect the ball to be hit; demand it to be caught.”

Many people are trying to find the downside on this team, and are saying that Matt Williams’ inexperience, quotes of the day and fundamentals will throw off the Nats. However, if what we’ve seen so far is a sign, I can tell you I have upmost confidence in him.

So laugh all you want about his managing style. But he can definitely lead the Nats to something special, so get on the bandwagon now. Because when it starts rolling, you won’t want to be late.

“If not you, then who?”

 

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Is Doug Fister the Nationals’ Missing Piece?

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Is Doug Fister what brings the Nationals a World Series Parade?

Is Doug Fister what brings the Nationals a World Series Parade? (CBSSports)

Hey everyone, this post was a collaboration between me and Matt Eisner, the Nationals youth pro-blogger. If you want to see more of his work, go to mattsbats.com or follow him on Twitter at @MattsBats.

Two hours down the long California freeways from San Francisco lies the Northern California town of Merced. A small, sleepy town, it doesn’t look like much to the naked eye. However, it is the home of a few notable people – NBA All Star Shooting Guard Ray Allen, the C.E.O. of YouTube – and Doug Fister.

Merced, California (Engadget)

Merced, California (Engadget)

One of the newest and most exciting additions to the Nationals roster for the 2014 season is pitcher Doug Fister.  Fister, a starter acquired from the Tigers, may be the proven veteran in the Nats rotation that Mike Rizzo has been hoping to find for many years.  He may also be the missing link in the rotation for taking the Nationals to the playoffs. But where did that start? Let’s go back a few years.

Doug grew up the son of Larry, a fire captain and police SWAT team member, and Jan, a homemaker. He grew up interested in baseball, woodworking, and remodeling cars.  As a kid, he would take apart his mom’s appliances and then put them back together again, just for fun. (He still has a love for tinkering – this winter, even though he could afford the best builder in California, he rebuilt his own bathroom – just for fun.) Doug grew up a fan of the nearby A’s and Giants.  He was also a fan of the “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr.

Doug went to Golden Valley High School, and played high school ball for the Cougars. He was a pitcher and a utility player, and he hit .425 in his senior year. He was drafted by the nearby Giants as a first baseman, but decided to play baseball in college.  After graduating from Golden Valley, he decided to go to Merced Junior College for two years. In those two years, he was a junior college All Star, and struck out 29 players in just 30 innings pitched. He went on to Division I Fresno State and, in 2006, was voted to the ESPN All-District team, with a 3.33 ERA.  Doug was also a good student, with a 3.31 GPA in liberal studies and planned to be an elementary school teacher if he didn’t make it to The Show. The Fresno State Bulldogs, as they were called, went to the NCAA tournament that year, but fell to Cal State Fullerton in the Regional Finals that year.

After watching big names like Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer being picked, Doug Fister was selected with the fifth pick in the seventh round of the 2006 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.  His dream came true as MLB Commissioner Bud Selig introduced him as a professional ballplayer.

After rising relatively quickly through the Mariners’ organization,

(Hardball Talk - NBC Sports)

On the Mariners(Hardball Talk – NBC Sports)

he made his major league debut on August 8, 2009 with one inning of shutout pitching. Three days later, he started his first game against the White Sox, and eventually finished that season 3-4. The next year, he was given the chance to become a regular starter. He got the job, and posted a 6-14 record with a 4.11 E.R.A. Even with those rough numbers, many people saw the potential in the tall kid from Merced.

On the trade deadline of 2011, after a rough 3-12 start, the Mariners shipped Doug Fister away to the Detroit Tigers. After that trade, he went 8-1, and had a 1.71 E.R.A in ten starts as a Tiger. After two playoff wins, things were looking good for Doug

Fister celebrating in the clubhouse after defeating the Yankees in the ALDS (CBSSports)

Fister celebrating in the clubhouse after defeating the Yankees in the ALDS (CBSSports)

Fister and the Tigers. 2012 had potential to be a big year for them.

Although injured for a portion of the beginning of the 2012 season, Fister came back strong, and managed a 10-10 record that year, recorded a shutout and, in all of his playoff games, did not give up more than two runs in any game, in up to seven innings of work. Doug was a large part in the Tigers’ 2013 Division Championship run. Not only did he post a career high in wins, win percentage and strikeouts, but kept the eventual World Series champions, the Red Sox, to one run over six innings in the ALCS.

On the evening of December 3, 2013, a high school senior in Boston, Chris Cotillo, broke the news that Fister was being traded for the second time of his career.  In a move that surprised the baseball world, Doug Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals for utility player Steve Lombardozzi, rookie pitcher Ian Krol and prospect Robbie Ray.  For a deal like this, it was hard for Nats fans not to be excited.

The Nationals are hoping that Doug Fister fills a role in their rotation that they tried unsuccessfully to do with Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren in 2012 and 2013.  Fister is a seasoned veteran going on 5 years of major league experience with lots of postseason experience.  With his clutch pitching and intimidating height, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the already solid rotation. Most likely, he will slot in as the Nats’ fourth starter, although on most teams he would probably slot higher.  Most expect that Nationals starting rotation to go Strasburg (R), Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann (R), Fister (R), and the fifth spot to be decided in Spring Training between Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan or possibly even Christian Garcia.  With a lineup that strong, Fister could even go #5 for real right-left, right-left rotation.  He could also slot in higher in the rotation to mess with hitters’ timing– while Strasburg can go 95 mph and Gio and J-Zimm also throw heat in the 90s, Fister’s fastball tops out in the high 80s but with major accuracy and a sinker that induces a lot of infield outs.  Imagine what it would be like as a batter playing a four game series against the Nats facing Strasburg’s fastball on Monday, Gio’s wicked curve on Tuesday, Zimmerman’s change in velocity on Wednesday, and Fister’s nasty sinker on Thursday.

Doug Fister introducing himself at NatsFest, with Jerry Blevins and Mike Rizzo. (Scott Ableman, FLICKR)

Doug Fister introducing himself at NatsFest, with Jerry Blevins and Mike Rizzo. (Scott Ableman, FLICKR)

One big way Doug Fister can help is in the clubhouse. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems last year was the atmosphere behind the scenes, due to the loss of clubhouse guys Mark DeRosa and Michael Morse. With the help of Nate McClouth, Jerry Blevins and Jose Lobaton, he could change that. He will be the oldest of the Nationals starting pitchers and has a calm personality that will probably make him fit in well with teammates Strasburg and Zimmermann. He’s also just a generally fun guy to hang around with, according to many teammates and coaches.

However, the biggest reason Doug Fister can make the Nats a championship team, is the simple fact that he is an amazing pitcher. Even while he was pitching in the third most hitter-friendly ballpark in the country, he posted great numbers throughout his tenure as a Tiger. He succeeds by throwing well-placed pitches and getting hitters to swing on top of the sinker that drops like a rock, which means lots of groundballs to guys like Zimmerman, Desmond and Rendon/Espinosa. Walks are also a rarity with him.

In college, he studied to be a teacher – but went to baseball instead. But hopefully, he can teach the younger guys what has made him excel, and his calm. “Just do your job” attitude.  Doug Fister has seen a lot of postseason play with the Tigers, and in those high pressure situations he’s posted a 2.98 E.R.A. for an average of six innings a game.

The Nats already had the potential to be a great team, but with the addition of Doug Fister, they may have taken the leap to become a World Series team.

Fister told USA Today, he is going to “approach every day trying to get better and trying to make it to October.”

Hopefully, we’ll see him there this Fall.

This article was independently researched. However, if you want  another good article on this, please look at  washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/nationals-doug-fister-knows-he-can-be-of-service/2014/02/14/a0592b16-95c2-11e3-8461-8a24c7bf0653_story.html

Nats settle with Clippard, avoid arbitration

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This is not written by me, but by Nats Insider. However, this is important for all Nats fans to know. New post coming soon!

Nats Insider

The Nationals and Tyler Clippard agreed to salary terms today, thus avoiding an arbitration hearing that was scheduled to take place Feb. 17 in Florida.

Clippard will make $5.875 million this season, according to CBSsports.com, settling on a number that was higher than the midpoint of the two sides’ formal arbitration offers last month.

Clippard, who made $4 million last season, was seeking $6.35 million. The Nationals were offering $4.45 million.

Today’s settlement resolves all 10 of the Nationals’ arbitration cases for the winter and ensures the club won’t go to any hearings for the second straight year.

The Nationals now have 22 players under contract for 2014, with those salaries totaling nearly $130 million. Their Opening Day payroll in 2013 was $118 million, a franchise record at the time.

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It’s time to Embrace your Natitude

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Terrance warms up the ol' Natitude machine. (Washington Post)

Terrance warms up the ol’ Natitude machine. (Washington Post)

If you were to pick the song that symbolized D.C. sports the most, “Hail to the Redskins” would be the answer from almost anyone. Just not me.

As D.C. counts down the days until the 2014 Draft, where the Redskins have lost their first-round pick, again to the Rams, still owing them for the R.G.3 trade, and will in all likelihood, if history repeats itself, go away from the idea they need to pick a pass defense or an offensive line. But we don’t care – who doesn’t love the Redskins in this city, and consider the Spring and Summer “The dark months”? No matter how good the Caps, Wizards and Nats are, most Washingtonians have a little thought in the back of their head,  “This is our year – this is the year the Redskins win it all”. While we’ve had that thought many times, the closest we’ve ever gotten (this century) is two first round playoff losses to Seattle.

I understand the longing for a possible championship team. However, that team is already here. That team is the Washington Nationals.

As pitchers and catchers report this thursday, the disappointment that was the 2013 season is no longer in the heads of Nats fans. The boys of summer are heading down to Viera, Florida as we read, and hope is full in our hearts. But this isn’t like saying that the Redskins are going to win the Super Bowl this year, just because of a winning record. The Nats have every single piece ready and waiting – there is no hole visible in the roster. They proved two years ago that they have the potential to go, and to win the World Series. After a humbling experience last year, I believe this year, they can have the season everybody expects of them.

But this isn’t the problem. The problem does not lie in new manager Matt Williams or in twenty one year old left fielder Bryce Harper. No, we are the problem.

Two years ago, the slogan was “Ignite your Natitude”. And oh, we ignited it, with record crowds and a division title. However, D.C.  has still yet to “Embrace their Natitude”. Embracing your Natitude does not mean going to fifty games a year or going down to Viera, F.L. for all of Spring Training, but bringing your most excited and most enthusiastic attitude to the ballpark, and cheering as loud as possible. It does not mean watching Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo each night (although I personally enjoy that). Instead, it means just talking about the Nats at school or work or wherever you spend your time, or just simply sticking a Nats bumper sticker on your car. Embracing your Natitude means believing that the Nats can win a championship, just being excited, and until November, silencing that Redskins voice inside your head.

The Nats have a great chance this year. However, with this city’s attitude, it feels like it could be wasted on the majority of us. So go ahead. It’s time to embrace your Natitude.

.COM

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I’ve made the big financial jump of $26 and bought a domain. If you want to check the site out, please go to Sideofnatitude.com – Thanks

SON Flash: Just…

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SON Flash: Just In: A-Rod has dropped his lawsuit against the MLB, the MLB Players Association and Bud Selig. There is now no chance of him returning. In other news, the Nationals have resigned an original Nat, Luis Ayala. wapo.st/1aDL8Qg

The baseball offseason in review

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There are quite a few holidays in the good ol’ U.S.A. Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, Presidents Day, Easter, Hanukkah, and my personal favorite after Hanukkah: Opening Day. However, there is one more I didn’t list there. The day that pitchers and catchers report.

The month is February, and the days are short, gray and cold. But you know, that somewhere in Southern Florida or Arizona, the boys of summer are getting ready. Maybe they’re just catching up on what happened in those long months or sharing glory from the World Series, or doing basic drills. But they’re back in uniform, in the heat, and everyone is optimistic. That will change for most teams, but this is the most hopeful day. So, as baseball starts up again, we have to look back at the offseason.

The first thing was managerial positions, the most important thing in my opinion. Former players like Matt Williams & Brad Ausmus both got the most appealing jobs, for the Nationals and Tigers. Lloyd McClendon, Bryan Price and Rick Rentaria all joined the Mariners, Reds and Cubs, respectively.

Back in November, which feels like forever ago at this point, the first truly major name switched teams. Tim Hudson left the Atlanta Braves for the Giants on a two year deal.

However, the real stuff didn’t start for another few days. This was one of the most unexpected deals, with Prince Fielder being traded to the Rangers for cash and Ian Kinsler.

This shocked the baseball world in ways more than one. However, I feel like I said something about this a while back…

After this, the bigger deals started. Jhonny Peralta went to the Cardinals, and before you could say that “The Cardinals are the Yankees of the NL!” The Yankees made a splash and a half by signing Jacoby Elisbury and Carlos Beltran, creating a starting outfield with a combined age of 96 and 3 other outfielders including Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano. Sheesh.

This is where it gets interesting for Nats fans. For barely anything unless you are a citizen of Natstown, The Nats acquired Doug Fister for prospect Robbie Ray and second baseman/utility man Steve Lombardozzi. Even more interestingly, the deal was reported by a high schooler.

Next, a confusing three-team deal sent Mark Trumbo to the D-Backs. The next day, the Nats traded for Jerry Blevins, a lefty reliever. The day right after that, Nate McClouth made the cross-beltway journey to join the Nats as a utility man. Right after, Mike Napoli resigned with the Red Sox, and beards everywhere rejoiced. However, the biggest deal of the offseason was yet to come. The Seattle Mariners somehow got their hands on Robinson Cano, for ten years and $240 million.

Trying to replace the big bat that Helton provided, Morneau decided that he would spend the next two years in Colorado. The Giants then added Michael Morse. The final big deal before the new year was Sin Soo Choo signing with the Rangers for seven years. Jamey Carroll came back to Natstown, again, except he’ll start (in all likelihood) in Syracuse. Right before MLB approved instant replay, A-Rod was suspended, and it was announced he would miss all of the 2014 season.

Coincidentally, the final “really big deal” happened when the Yankees spent the A-Rod money on Masahiro Tanaka signed with the Yankees.

The final relatively important deals were made on January 26th, when Matt Garza signed with the Brewers.

The only big names that remain are Nelson Cruz, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.

So, if there’s anything I missed, I apologize. It’s pretty hard to put an entire offseason into 700 words.

But everything is in place for an awesome season. What will be a bust? What will work? What was stupid? What was smart? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, see you on Opening Day!