VIERA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and some of the other Washington pitchers waited on bullpen mounds here Sunday morning, and somewhere else on the field, the hands of a clock reached the prescribed moment and an air horn sounded -- and the pitchers went to work, like horses coming through the gates.
Not long after, at another work station, a pitcher began to gather his equipment and prepare for a move to another field, but before he could leave a coach said to him, “Wait here until you hear the horn.”
The horn sounded a few seconds later, and the coach shooed the pitcher along.
This is the structure built under new Nationals manager Matt Williams, and before you get the wrong impression and think of the place as humorless and sterile, please understand that just about everybody else here pokes fun at his need for order, including Williams.
This is about commitment, the players understand, about being purposeful in work, and not about Williams counting seconds and identifying loiterers. In his first meeting with the pitchers and catchers here the other day, the players say that Williams was direct and positive and all about helping them get better.
“He hasn’t forgotten about how hard the game is,” one veteran said. “He played, and he gets it.”
Williams was so highly regarded by a core of the players in Arizona, where he has coached in recent seasons, that if Kirk Gibson had been let go, Williams would’ve had a lot of support in the Diamondbacks clubhouse to be the replacement. They responded to him, because of how direct and businesslike he is, and the Nationals are doing the same in his first days on the job, with his schedules and air horns and all.
He is well spoken, succinct and thoughtful, and he absorbed their work Sunday. “I just want to see their commitment level,” he said. “It’s a team that has a lot of talent, and there’s a lot being said about this club, but we have to fully commit if we’re going to win. So that’s what I’m looking for -- I’m looking for their enthusiasm and attention to detail, and we’ll go from there.”
What Williams noticed in Sunday’s workout was how Strasburg