Apr 4, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
Matt Williams wants his Nationals to be aggressive on the bases. That much he has made clear since the day he was introduced as the club’s new manager.
Williams, though, always adds one important caveat to that sentiment.
“We want to take advantage of it when it’s there for us,” he said. “But we also want to make sure we’re sure in that situation.”
The Nationals weren’t sure on three separate occasions during Friday’s 2-1, home opener loss to the Braves. In each case, they ran themselves into an out. And given the final margin of defeat, those outs on the bases proved every bit as significant — maybe even more so — than the overturned replay call that negated Ian Desmond’s apparent inside-the-park home run in the fifth.
“I’m not really too concerned about [the overturned call],” Desmond said. “It was more the mistakes that were made, especially me. It was probably a bigger story to me than that.”
The star shortstop would know. Moments after he was sent back to second base when his homer was changed to a ground-rule double, Desmond made a surprise decision to try to steal third base. He was easily thrown out by Braves catcher Evan Gattis, killing a potential rally.
“It was a little overaggressive,” Williams said.
“He’s giving us the leeway to go when we want,” Desmond said. “But that was a poor decision on my part.”
Three innings earlier, Bryce Harper was caught trying to steal second base, a decision made even worse when Desmond followed with a single up the middle.
And then there was third base coach Bobby Henley’s decision to wave Adam LaRoche around third base on Ryan Zimmerman’s double off the left-field wall. With Justin Upton quickly getting the ball back to strong-armed shortstop Andrelton Simmons, LaRoche was out at the plate by a good five feet.
Instead of having runners on second and third with one out and Harper at the plate, the Nationals wound up with only Zimmerman on third base and two outs.
“I think as players we like it when a third base coach is aggressive,” said LaRoche of Henley, in his first season as a big-league coach. “If you do that enough times, it’s going to pay off. … Be aggressive and keep pouring it on. I promise you, if we keep that approach, it’s going to pay off a lot more times than it doesn’t.”
Baserunning didn’t factor into the Nationals’ last good shot at producing a game-tying (or potentially game-winning) rally. Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, they quickly put two men on base against Atlanta setup man David Carpenter, with the heart of their lineup looming.
Carpenter, though, struck out the side, getting LaRoche to whiff at a 2-2 fastball, mowing down Zimmerman on three pitches and catching Harper looking at a 3-2 fastball on the inside corner.
“He made good pitches on me,” Zimmerman said. “He quick-pitched me on the second pitch, and I just missed a fastball I could’ve done some damage on. Then I swung at a ball. But we had them where we wanted them. We had a chance in the late innings and just couldn’t get the hit when we needed to.”
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