Feb 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — They’d thrown bullpen sessions. They’d worked on their bunting and defensive positioning. Lord knows, they’d taken more than their share of grounders.
So on the 13th day of spring training, Matt Williams decided to let his Nationals enjoy a rare, easy morning to wrap up the first leg of camp.
Players took batting practice inside Space Coast Stadium for the first time. Outfielders shagged. Everyone was done for the day by 11:30 a.m., something Williams wanted to ensure on the eve of his team’s Grapefruit League opener.
“It’s designed to be a lighter day, and designed to feel more like a game day,” the first-year manager said. “Take the regular grounders during batting practice. Take BP. Let them go and get ready for the next game.”
It was far and away the shortest and least-intense workout of the spring, with music playing over the PA system and a couple dozen fans watching from box seats, serenading Denard Span on his 30th birthday and gawking over Wilson Ramos’ moonshots during BP.
Williams was delivering the pitches for Ramos’ BP group, amazed as much as everyone else when the hulking catcher launched balls off the scoreboard in left-center, off the trees deeper to the scoreboard’s right and off an advertisement just to the right of the massive batter’s eye in center.
“I lost,” Williams said of his one-on-one encounter.
Things will turn more serious tomorrow when the Nationals travel to Port St. Lucie for their exhibition opener against the Mets. Williams’ focus will be on making sure he gets his players enough at-bats and innings. Players will begin stating their cases for what few roster spots are up for grabs.
For now, Williams is pleased simply to have made it through his first two weeks as a big-league manager, instilling both his intensity and his upbeat nature on a Nationals club that has enjoyed the atmosphere so far.
“I think they’ve had fun and they’ve worked really hard,” Williams said. “I know they’re all itching to get into games and have a different uniform sitting in the other dugout. That’s a good sign. I think the offensive players are about sick and tired of live batting practice. That’s good. They’ve gotten a chance to see a lot of different guys and get a lot of looks but now it’s time to put it to work. Let’s go.”
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