Nationals begin spring training with new manager Matt Williams
- Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark pauses before entering the elevator at their spring training baseball facility, Thursday. (Photo: Associated Press)
VIERA, Fla. (AP) - On the bulletin board in the Washington Nationals spring training clubhouse, a meticulous schedule is already posted for the first two days of workouts. Each day has its own motto, a personal touch from new, organized-to-the-hilt manager Matt Williams.
Day 1: "He who holds the ball controls the game."
Day 2: "Every pitch we make is with conviction."
"I like it," reliever Drew Storen said. "It's a different vibe. He's going to keep it fresh."
Throughout the morning, players greeted old friends and shook hands with new ones. They looked at cellphone photos of the foot of snow dumped overnight on the D.C. area and watched Olympic hockey and curling on the television.
Thursday was the day for players and catchers to report. Many players ventured outside to play catch on the outfield grass at Space Coast Stadium. Physicals are scheduled for Friday, with Stephen Strasburg and the rest of the projected starting rotation getting bright-and-early 7:30 a.m. appointment times.
The first of the formal workouts - when Williams' slogans actually go into effect - is Saturday. He's a manager big on motivation and even bigger on planning, having seemingly mapped out the entirety of spring training down to the minute.
"He knows where he wants to go, and he's just trying to take us there," starter Gio Gonzalez said. "That's a great way to start it, especially showing us that he's focused. He's going into battle with an idea - not just going out there and gunning it."
It's a change of pace from the more relaxed approach of Davey Johnson, whose final season in charge will be remembered for one - and only one - mantra: "World Series or bust." With "bust" achieved and Johnson retired, the Nationals under Williams will try to fulfill the first of those two options with mostly the same components, give or take a change in the starting rotation (Doug Fister instead of Dan Haren) and some new faces in the bullpen and on the bench.
In fact, the Nationals are so well-stocked that they were essentially able to finish their shopping Thursday when they traded for a backup catcher. It all happened quickly. Around 9 a.m., Nate Karns was talking to reporters about the possibility that he would be shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I haven't heard anything, and right now I'm still focused on coming out and competing for that fifth spot" in the starting rotation, he said.
By 10 a.m., he had heard something. He was speaking to reporters again, this time after a meeting with general manager Mike Rizzo. Karns would indeed be going to the Rays for catcher Jose Lobaton and two prospects, and soon he was packing belongings into a trash bag that he slung over his shoulder, while getting hugs and well-wishes from his now-former teammates.
"I'm still really trying to swallow the whole pill right now," he said, "and it'll probably hit me as soon as I leave this complex."
Every team begins spring training with optimism, but the Nationals' upbeat mood has merit. Of course, the same was said a year ago, before a slow start led to a disappointing season. Nevertheless, Rizzo's words as he confirmed the trade are indicative a confident team.
"There's not an obvious spot that we need to address," he said.