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Williams pushes the right buttons during wild win

Mar 31, 2014, 7:47 PM EDT

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NEW YORK — At the end of a marathon day at Citi Field, one that included a 3-hour, 47-minute ballgame, a struggling ace, potentially serious injuries to two key regulars and enough twists and turns to fill several weeks’ worth of games, Matt Williams was left searching for one thing: Pepto-Bismol.

“I have a stomachache now,” the rookie manager said. “Which is probably pretty normal.”

Very little about the Nationals’ 9-7, 10-inning victory on Opening Day was normal. Williams certainly got a crash course in managing a big-league ballgame, presented with just about every scenario a skipper might face.

And, for the most part, he pushed the right buttons, putting players in situations that set them up to succeed.

There were some nerve-wracking moments along the way, especially when Bryce Harper took a knee to the head and Wilson Ramos was forced to leave the game after taking a foul ball off his left hand.

In the end, Williams perhaps showed everyone what type of manager he will be, and what type of club he will lead: One that won’t be afraid to try just about anything to pull off a victory, especially late in games.

“That’s what we want to have as our DNA, that we never give up,” he said. “We never give in. They proved that today. We have the kind of folks on this club who can do that.”

Among the big decisions Williams made over the course of the game…

— Pulling back pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen, and wasting his eligibility, in favor of Nate McLouth for a key at-bat in the top of the seventh. McLouth wound up drawing a four-pitch walk against just-inserted Mets right-hander Carlos Torres, setting the stage for Denard Span to draw another walk and force in the tying run.

“Kevin’s got good numbers off that guy, too, but I decided to go with Nate in that regard,” Williams said. “In the end, it worked out for us. I don’t know if we could’ve gone wrong with either guy there, but we decided to send Nate up there and give them another look.”

— Sending Danny Espinosa up to pinch-hit with two outs in the top of the ninth and the Nationals trailing by a run. Espinosa, making his return to the big leagues after his banishment to Class AAA Syracuse early last season, battled his way through an 8-pitch at-bat and drew a walk, setting the table for Span to again deliver the game-tying double.

— Having Aaron Barrett make his major-league debut in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied. The rookie right-hander wound up retiring the side, striking out two and earning his first career win.

“The situation called for it,” Williams said. “He matched up well with the guys who were coming up, we thought. He’s ready to pitch every day, so we got him out there. He did great.”

— Pulling Ryan Zimmerman as part of a double-switch, inserting Espinosa at second base and moving Anthony Rendon to third base. The reason for that unconventional move? With Ramos injured and Frandsen out of the game without playing, Espinosa suddenly was the emergency catcher if something happened to Lobaton.

“The only thing that worried me during the game was that we burned Kevin,” Williams said. “He’s technically the emergency catcher. So, if Wilson’s out of the game, we’re down to the situation that we’ve talked about all spring. That was the only thing that worried me. But we wanted to leave Danny in the game. That’s why we took Ryan out in that spot. We wanted to have Danny in the game in case something happened to Lobi. So that was the reason we took Zim out.”

It all worked out in the end. Williams shook hands with everyone on the field, then returned to the clubhouse, where he was doused with beer in honor of his first managerial win.

Only 161 more of these to go.

“I’m alive,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll probably sleep pretty good tonight. But our guys played really well. They played really well today.”

  1. MicheleS - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    It was a good win, apart from Ramos’ hand, I am exhausted, and on my way home! WOOOOOOOO HOOOOOO!!

  2. jonnynats14 - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:02 PM

    Ok, thanks for that Mr Mark, I was wondering about pulling Zim, I was thinking surely not for defense. But with Rendon’s ab coming up, he wanted him in, and Zim’s spot still some way away. It certainly payed off.

  3. janebeard - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    It was fun to see his interview. Odd to seen Davey in the dugout. But I’m loving this guy. Fingers crossed that BamBam and the Buffalo mend FAST.

  4. Manassas Nats Fan - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    I believe a good sign 3 for 6 with RISP

  5. RickH - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    Great win, but I hope Ramos is okay. That guy has more bad luck!

  6. Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:49 PM

    So am I correct that Zim made zero throws today? Or maybe just one from the infield grass?

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:55 PM

      He had no errors, and had one moderately tough play/throw on a sac bunt.. His biggest “error” was swinging at ball four with the bases loaded and 2 outs, but it happens to the best of them sometimes. He stranded five that I remember.

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:01 PM

        Right that was on the infield grass, right? Was curious if there were any throws all the way across the diamond and, if so, how he looked.

        Charlie and Dave seemed convinced that Zim had to protect on that ball 4 swing… Whether or not he used a protective swing they didn’t say ;)

      • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:05 PM

        Eric, I thought that it was a great pitch. It’s easy to sit on my sofa and say that he should have taken ball four. Hell, with the way the ump’s zone varied he might have called that pitch strike 3 anyway. Zim will be fine.

      • zmunchkin - Apr 1, 2014 at 7:33 AM

        He did swing at what should have been ball 4. But Tim Welke’s strike zone was all over the place yesterday. It was close enough that Zim had to swing. If Welke had not been so inconsistent all game, then I might agree that it was a mistake to swing.

  7. adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:49 PM

    Espi as backup catcher?! Ohh, so _now_ I get it.

    Wow.

    And, again — can’t say enough about Espi’s tough at bat. We were one strike away from a loss with Espi batting. Wow. What a season opener!

  8. Presidents Race Fan - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Williams is going to add a new level of fun and second-guessing for obsessive Nats fans.

    As for RISP, yeah yeah but the big thing was they got on base in the first place. 6 walks. .395 OBP. That’s very encouraging. Do that and you’ll score your share of runs.

    What’s not encouraging: Wilson’s hand. Downright depressing, for the team and especially for him. You have to feel for the guy.

  9. Candide - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:05 PM

    … Matt Williams was left searching for one thing: Pepto-Bismol.

    “I have a stomachache now,” the rookie manager said. “Which is probably pretty normal.”

    Mr. Williams, allow me to introduce you to the Official Hairy-Game Drink of the Nats Insider Blog Crew – Bourbon and Maalox!

    • waddueyeno - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:13 PM

      best of all possible

      • Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:52 PM

        Gene!

  10. sunshinebobby - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:11 PM

    Thanks, Candide! That’s EXACTLY what I was thinking when I heard Matty was bellyaching about having a bellyache.

    Barkeep, bourbon and Maalox all around for my friends. Starting with the Big Guy, No. 9 in the dugout.

    Hang in there, skip. It’s a long season. But we have all the bourbon and Maalox you’ll need to get us to October.

  11. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    Welcome to being the leadoff hitter on a MLB team, Billy Hamilton. 0-4 with 4 K’s. You don’t need a lot of speed to go back to the dugout from home plate. In fairness, it was against Wainwright.

    • veejh - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:40 PM

      No more Choo is going to hurt worse than they think.

      • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:55 PM

        Both on offense and defense. I’m sure he’ll have some terrific games and highlight plays, but I will be surprised if he’s still starting for them by the AS break.

  12. Faraz Shaikh - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Happy that we won but sad to hear about Ramos!

  13. Faraz Shaikh - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    I feel bad for Ramos. I was hoping for a nice season from him for him and the team and his fans.

  14. sunshinebobby - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Billy Hamilton’s 0-for-4 with 4 K’s is known to Nats Insiders as “pulling a Nook Logan,” correct?

  15. Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    eric/Joe Seamhead – The Brooks f/x shows that ball that Ryan Zimmerman swung at was about 5 to 7 inches inside. By the way, all 8 pitches thrown to Ryan Zimmerman according to Pitch f/x were all fastballs.

    I am surprised Valverde is still employed and today he took on the heart of the Nats lineup and mowed them down. Not just Ryan Zimmerman but also struck out Werth and Harper.

    Here’s the K of RZim:

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:20 PM

      Ghost, I said originally at 8:55 that Zimm’s biggest error in the game was swinging at ball four with the two outs and the bases loaded. A great pitch doesn’t have to be in the strike zone if the batter swings and misses.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:28 PM

        You are correct. Valverde was throwing 92 and the batters were swinging like it was 102. I’m sure the pitch to RZim was a mistake since bases were loaded and it happens.

      • natinalsgo - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:33 PM

        Valverde would have fallen apart if Ryan takes that ball 4. Unfortunately the K gave him confidence.

        Last year’s Nats would’ve folded after all that. This years Nats fought to the last out.

    • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:55 PM

      Thanks Ghost!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:00 PM

        In RZim’s defense I’ve seen him homer on those before as those are the pitches he pulls down the line like his memorable walk-off Grand Slam against the Phools. If he jacks that out, nobody is complaining.

        Yes, it was ball 4. The only bad part is that Valverde is a “head case” in my opinion and that gave him confidence. He looked like the old Valverde in the next inning and that’s not good as the Nats could face him again on Wednesday and Thursday!

    • zmunchkin - Apr 1, 2014 at 7:35 AM

      As I said in the comment above, Tim Welke’s strike zone was changing constantly. If Zim takes that pitch there is still a good chance that Welke strikes him out.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 1, 2014 at 10:25 AM

        Welke and RZim talked after the K. From the body language he told him it was a ball. Just my guess.

  16. Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:25 PM

    Espinosa with a great AB. Rendon was amazing. Lobaton and Ramos were both great behind the plate. Strasburg missed on 3 pitches today and the pitch to Brown was a 95 fastball almost down the middle and of course was a mistake pitch that Brown didn’t miss. Strasburg other than that was amazing even though the box score doesn’t show it. LaRoche with a clutch HR. Barrett lights out. Storen—are you kidding me? Those sliders were dancing. Great job by Lobaton on framing.

    Matty Williams made some good moves. I thought at the moment you have to pull the slow ALR for a pinch runner and as it turned out it was a good thing he didn’t since it went into extra innings.

    Defense was excellent today.

  17. Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:28 PM

    Trout with a 2 run jack in the 1st vs King Felix.

  18. Doc - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:39 PM

    Hey wad about our gang of pitchers getting 18 Ks—even if it was over 10 innings!

  19. Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:44 PM

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2014/03/31/wilson-ramos-left-season-opener-with-broken-bone-in-left-hand/

    “According to a person close to Ramos, however, the catcher did fracture a bone in his hand.”

    Do we trust the un-named source or the X-ray? This kid needs some luck on his side is all I have to say. Vamos Ramos!

    • Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:00 PM

      Better not give him another x-ray though — too much risk of radiation. :-)

  20. Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:03 PM

    Ghost, since you’ve looked at the pitching data, any thoughts on Stras’s velocity today. Was it as down as the MASN radar gun seemed to suggest? Any concerns?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:22 PM

      It’s early in the season so I’m not concerned on his velo. The gun was clearly off. Not as fast as they had him to start the game. His last batter of the day he threw him a 94.5 fastball and he averaged .20 above his average for the day on his 4 seamer. I was impressed with his movement on all pitches except his sinker. By the way, he threw 11 sliders and 1 was so nasty the batter didn’t know what it was and he had his best whiff % on his slider. That in itself is a breakthrough.

      3 mistake pitches was what I saw based on the catchers set-up. That Andrew Brown pitch was unfortunate. If this was the old fence configuration it would have been a double at best or possibly caught on the warning track.

      Rendon’s HR was jacked. That was a HR in both outfield fence configs.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:34 PM

        The Rendon HR was really crushed. Probably didn’t get above about 15-feet all the way out there. Last season FP was talking about how the ball sounds different coming off his bat. Very unlike the helium assisted thing Wright hit. Wouldn’t surprise me if Rendon has the season Machado had last year.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:45 PM

        Amen to that. Rendon is one of the most gifted batters in eye/hand coordination in the game. Steady head and bat to the ball. His point of connection creates tremendous spin that allows him to drive the ball without needing the same velocity off the bat like classic HR hitters.

        Rendon is about barreling up line drives without any exaggerated upper cut. If they go out, great, but his main game is about peppering gaps.

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:51 PM

        Charlie and Dave seemed very surprised that it went out… When I saw the replay it seemed quite clear it would go from the moment it left his bat… Maybe the low trajectory threw them off as they looked down on it?

  21. NatsNut - Apr 1, 2014 at 12:30 AM

    Such a great game, and such a great day of baseball at Citi Field. First, I would not be exaggerating if I said Two Boots pizza was the best slice of pizza I think I’ve ever eaten. Second, did anyone else notice that it was the guys we would least expect who came through the most today? Espinosa (such a great at-bat), Aaron Barrett, LaRoche, Rendon. Even Storen was lights out.

    • Section 222 - Apr 1, 2014 at 1:23 AM

      Welcome home, and excellent point. Span too. Clutch hitting from guys not named Zim, Werth, and Harper. I like it!

  22. zmunchkin - Apr 1, 2014 at 7:37 AM

    Given all the concern about ALR going into this season, I am somewhat surprised that no one has pointed out that ALR’s HR early in the game, kept it close.

    • natinalsgo - Apr 1, 2014 at 7:59 AM

      Just re-read all the comments here. Ghost at 10:25 called LaRoche’s HR “clutch”. It got the Nats back in the game against Cy Gee.

      I also like the praise given to Strasburg. He was better than the stats.

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 1, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      In addition to his clutch home run Adam walked twice and scored three runs. Another somewhat unsung hero of the game.

Archives

FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 96 66 --
ATLANTA 79 83 17.0
NEW YORK 79 83 17.0
MIAMI 77 85 19.0
PHILADELPHIA 73 89 23.0

NL POSTSEASON SCHEDULE

NL WILD CARD GAME
WED: Giants at Pirates, 8:07 p.m. (ESPN)

NLDS
FRI: Game 1, Pirates at Nats, 12:07 p.m.,
OR Giants at Nats, 3:07 p.m. (FS1)
SAT: Game 2, PIT/SF at Nats, 5:37 p.m. (FS1)
MON: Game 3, Nats at PIT/SF, TBA (MLBN)
OCT. 7: Game 4, Nats at PIT/SF, TBA (FS1)*
OCT. 9: Game 5, PIT/SF at Nats, TBA (FS1)*
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