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Williams heads ‘home’ to San Francisco

Jun 9, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

Photo by The Associated Press Photo by The Associated Press

For a series in early June, the upcoming four-game bout between the Nationals and Giants has no shortage of storylines.

It’s the two hottest teams in the National League squaring off in one of baseball’s most pristine parks. Four days between two heavyweights, hosted in a cathedral of the game.

One of those storylines is Nationals manager Matt Williams returning to San Francisco, his first home in the major leagues. The Giants drafted Williams with the third overall pick in 1986. He played 10 years there, made four All-Star teams, and won three Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

Williams became a star in San Francisco, and has long identified with the franchise. Heading back to the place his MLB career began will be special for the Nationals’ rookie manager.

“That’s my original home,” Williams said. “I spent 10 years there. The people of San Francisco have been nothing but gracious to me my whole career whether I was a Giant or an Indian or a Diamondback or managing the Washington Nationals. So it feels like home to me because that’s where I started. I have great memories there. I learned how to be a big-league baseball player there.”

Williams remembers being drafted by the Giants in June of 1986. Then a star at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Williams was confident he would be drafted, he just didn’t think it would happen so quickly.

“I was actually in my mom and dad’s house,” he said. “The phone rang. I didn’t expect it because there wasn’t a whole lot said about it, really. So I didn’t expect to go No. 1 to the Giants. I thought maybe I’d get drafted somewhere, but not that high.”

Williams was elated to be drafted into the majors, his childhood dream realized. Talking contracts, however, was not his thing.

“Then the negotiations started. And I got so frustrated about it I took my pole and my dog and went fishing for three or four days and got out of there. But it was a fun process. It was fun to have that excitement and to know you’ve reached one of your goals.”

Williams had a good run in San Francisco before moving on to play for Cleveland and Arizona. While with the Giants he made the playoffs twice, including a World Series in 1989 when they lost to Oakland.

In 1993 they won 103 games – the franchise’s best record in 31 years – but didn’t make the postseason. In the years after, they would fall apart.

From 1994 to 1996 they posted losing records, prompting general manager Brian Sabean – hired for the position that year – to make significant changes.

One move Sabean made that offseason was a trade that sent Williams to the Indians. Williams was a fan favorite in San Francisco and the decision was very unpopular. But that was 18 years ago, and Williams doesn’t harbor any ill will towards the man who is still running the Giants.

“The only thing I’ve ever said to Brian about [getting traded] is that ‘I don’t blame you,’” Williams said. “He had a choice to make. You’ve got [Barry] Bonds or you’ve got Williams. And you’ve got to get rid of one of them. What are you going to do, right? So he made the right choice. It’s one of those decisions you have to make.”

Williams was unhappy at first, as San Francisco was the only major league home he had ever known. He had grown up in nearby Nevada and enjoyed some very good years there. In terms of overall team success, though, it would get better for Williams.

The third baseman went on to appear in another World Series with the Indians and later win one with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was in Arizona he learned how to coach, and it’s where he started a family. Both stops he now looks back on as great experiences.

“I really never thought I would leave the Giants. I didn’t want to, but it’s baseball and it’s a business and those things happen. Brian’s been very nice to me, though, in every respect. He’s been a great support for me. And regardless of where I was, he’s always been supportive.”

Awaiting the Nationals in San Francisco is the best team in the game, a 42-21 juggernaut back to playing its preferred brand of baseball. With great pitching and a deep lineup, the Giants are looking like a third World Series in five years is a real possibility.

The Nationals are also playing pretty well right now, though. Winners of seven of their last nine, the Nats appear to finally be rounding into form. With their sample size of success still relatively small, the Giants present a perfect test for where they are at as a team.

“Of course [going back] is significant,” Williams said. “We want to win those games, though. They’ve got a really good team and they’re playing really well. So we want to win those games. But yeah, it’s always special for me to go back there. The people have supported me for a long, long time. I’m grateful for that.”

  1. Joe Seamhead - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    GYFNG!!! Let’s start with a win one tonight and make Matt’s visit home even more special!

  2. Joe Seamhead - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    From Mark Zuckerman’s tweet yesterday:

    “One final pitching stat. #Nats starters last 5 games: 37 IP, 21 H, 6 ER, 0 BB, 40 K.”

    On some blogs those stats are being derided because they came against the Phills and Padres. Last time I looked those two teams were wearing MLB uniforms. 0-40! Those are some formidable walk to strike out ratios!

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:58 AM

      If it’s no big thing, then other teams’ pitchers must be putting up similar lines. Right?

    • Doc - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:04 AM

      Correctomudo, Seams.

      They were against big league players and big league talent, and anybody who watches or writes about baseball should get a grip on that, period!

      Not a lot of asterisks on baseball stats!

    • adcwonk - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      Nats team ERA leads the NL (2d is Atlanta, 3d is SF)
      Nats K/BB ration leads the NL (2d is SF, 3d is Altanta)

      Just sayin’ ;-)

  3. natinalsgo - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    Great comeback game after the Saturday loss. That’s what good teams do.

    Very important for the Nats to take this game tonight in San Fran. Old friend Mike Morse needs to be neutralized.

  4. natsfan1a - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:42 AM

    Already had the “series intro” email from my old friend in SFO. She always asks whether I’ll stay up for the night games. Um, no. I can barely stay up for the normal ones that go until 10 or so. I asked her how she likes Michael Morse and she asked me how I like Matt Williams. Go, NATS!! (Sorry, old friend.) :-)

  5. Joe Seamhead - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Speaking of strikeouts, this is a very informative, and eye popping, piece on the increase in K’s in baseball:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/05/16/strikeout-numbers-continue-to-rise-across-all-of-baseball/9182163/

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      The simplest explanation is Desmond and Espinosa.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:09 AM

        Espi, I expect it from at this point and have little hope for real improvement.

        Desi, I am more worried about, if only because he knows better, and has done better. He’s been struggling this year at the plate compared to the last 2, and he seems to have resorted to a HR or bust mentality.

        The good news is that he’s on the pace for the most HRs in his career.

        The bad news is that he also has the highest K rate of his career–almost 27% and climbing, vs a career rate of about 21%. 53 hits on the season, vs 68 strikeouts.

    • Doc - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      Pitchers are throwing harder, and batters are swinging harder, and its been going in that direction for the past 2 decades.

      If your name is Danny Espinosa, swinging harder doesn’t work as often as you’d like.

      • Candide - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:23 AM

        Pitchers are throwing harder…

        It’s not just hitters who are bigger and stronger, it’s pitchers, too. Which may be part of the reason we’re seeing so many TJ surgeries; you can increase muscle mass dramatically, but I doubt there’s any way to increase the strength of an elbow ligament. Eventually, the bigger, stronger pitcher puts more strain on his ligament than it was designed to stand, and it snaps.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 9, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        the bigger, stronger pitcher puts more strain on his ligament than it was designed to stand,

        Well, evolved to withstand.

        But I get the impression modern training methods are starting to better address building up the surrounding and supporting muscles, like they do with rotator cuffs, to help it withstand a little more. That seems like an area for a major breakthrough, if they could find (or evolve) a way to significantly increase the upper limits on velocity. But maybe it won’t happen.

        Sort of like upper limits on lifespan–it’s not that people are living longer now than anybody ever did, so much as many more of us are getting into the upper reaches.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      Al Kaline was interviewed during the ESPN game last night and questioned today’s hitters approach and swing for the fences mentality.

      He particularly talked about how batters in his day shortened up with 2 strikes.

      Glad Al said it. I think it’s the glorification of the majestic HR. The Dave Kingman approach to baseball. No glove, no defense, high K rate and lots of HRs puts butts in the seats.

      • knoxvillenat - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:46 AM

        Too many players today want to see themselves on Sportscenter and Quick Pitch. Easy way to do that is hitting a home run not a single to the opposite field. Of course you can also get on the highlight shows by being one of numerous strikeout victims for the opposing pitcher.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:44 AM

        Knox, absolutely and they all watch Sportscenter. The one thing I will say is Web Gems and Top Plays has highlighted the defensive plays and that’s been so undervalued in baseball and has brought back the pride in glovesmanship.

        Then again they have the Going Going Gone segment on Baseball Tonight which gives almost equal attention to the long blasts.

      • adcwonk - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:29 AM

        Dave Kingman!

        Hoo, boy. As a former Mets fan — wow, that brings back memories.

        He’s also part of the answer to an amazing trivia question:

        When did the HR champion have a lower batting average than the Cy Young Award winner, and who were they?

        Answer:

        1982, CYA Steve Carlton, 23-11, 3.10, 6 shutouts, 286K’s. As a batter, .218 that year.
        1982, Dave Kingman led the league in HR (37), K’s (156), and batted .207

        … those were the (shudder) days . . .

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        adcwonk, I’m glad someone understood my Dave Kingman reference.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:58 AM

        adcwonk, also, I enjoyed the Kong trivia. I think Kingman and Sosa probably has influenced more of the current crop of players than Rod Carew in the 80’s and Biggio in the 90’s.

        It’s probably why I like Rendon’s throwback approach so much.

      • tcostant - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:39 AM

        A split is a success for this four game series. Anything else is gravy.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:50 AM

        A split is .500 baseball which is your minimal standard against the top tier teams and like you said anything else is gravy.

        It’s the total domination over the bottom tier teams like the Phoolies and Padres that you hope to see.

        Saturday’s loss is a lesson in approach for when you consider that add-on runs the Nats couldnt get across for a 4-2 lead was the difference.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 9, 2014 at 3:46 PM

        Old Saying: “You don’t get off the island by leading the league in walks.”

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 9, 2014 at 3:49 PM

        So, Ghost and Knoxville, how do you reconcile that highlight-reel mentality with what seems to me like a counteracting tendency by the owners, to find undervalued skills, as in moneyball et c.?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        Smart GMs like Billy Beane and Mike Rizzo have come up with their own formulas to winning but the one thing both have in common is it starts with good, young, controllable pitchers.

        I think from there they diverge on player strategies as the Nats have a much larger budget.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:43 AM

    There certainly used to be more of a negative stigma in regards to the strike out, especially by the guys that weren’t named Ruth, Mantle, or Jackson, each of whom I believe held the record for career strikeouts when they retired.Records that have all been shattered since.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      OPS is a powerful stat and overshadows situational stats like RISP BA where a single counts the same as a HR.

  7. David Proctor - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    For what it’s worth re: Desmond, on June 9 2012, he was batting .262/.287/.434 (.722 OPS). Right now he’s batting .230/.299/.439 (.738 OPS). He is striking out more than ever, but he’s also walking more than ever. His 8% walk rate would top his career high 6.6% last year. The main difference that I see other than less contact is a .267 BABIP, compared to .320 career and .334 the last two years. A .267 BABIP would be by far the lowest of his career. He may not hit .280, but the average should rise and the power numbers are already there. He’s on pace for 31HR and 100RBI.

    • veejh - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      He’s been hitting all these HRs with 1 or 2 men on base. Credit the guys in front of him for getting on, but he’s finishing the job at the right time.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 9, 2014 at 3:51 PM

        He’s also not bouncing all over the batting order, which he did have to deal with in 2012, IIRC.

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Those are fair points too – I do appreciate that his BB rate is up. By comparing where he is now to the same date in 2012, are you suggesting he’s going to heat up later in the season? That was true in 2012, but not in 2013.

      Two points about his BABIP:

      1. his LD rate is down, which would also be associated with a drop in BABIP ( bbref and fgraphs give different LD rates for him; he’s down on both, tho more on the latter than the former);

      2. all those HRs are also driving down his BABIP, since for purposes of that stat, they don’t count as balls in play. So if his HR rate regresses and some of those long balls fall instead for doubles or triples, his BABIP will go up, but not his BA. And of course, the slugging will come down.

      Look, I’m not all doom and gloom on Desi–far from it. But I am concerned at what I’m seeing this year, and want him to get back to the guy we saw the last 2 years, when his offense was truly elite for his position (top 2-3).

      • Eric - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        Maybe he’s just regressing a touch so he can sign the contract he was offered in the offseason without “driving down the market” or whatever his reason was for turning it down ;)

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 9, 2014 at 3:53 PM

        I think 31 HR and 100 RBI would be elite for any position, nevermind SS.

  8. nats1924 - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    hey all!

    Would it be possible the Nats end up dealing Desmond in the offseason if negotiations turn sour?

    Dont get me wrong, i prefer Desi.. altho we do have Espi under control till end of ’17 season. Obviously Desi has the better bat, but im curious to see if Espi has the better glove at SS. And lets not forget Espi is a Rizzo guy given Rizzo drafted him.

    ..any thoughts?

    • knoxvillenat - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      I’m not one to book a bet on much of anything however I feel pretty certain that at some point in the next year or so Desmond and the Nats reach a long term agreement. I’m more certain they do it with Desi than I am with Jordan Zimmermann.

      • veejh - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Agree. I think Dez will be more willing to take a home town discount based on the words of JZimm this past offseason. JZimm isn’t replaceable, but I think we have a pretty good stock of pitchers in the pipeline, whereas, there really isn’t anyone to replace Dez, other than moving Espi over. That would create a hole at 2nd base, and we would probably have to fill that with a signing or trade. Who knows, maybe some of these issues get worked out soon with the whole Harper coming back/where does RZim play issue.

      • veejh - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:04 AM

        Sorry…just think JZimm is not gonna sign. He wants too much from what he has said. I think Dez will be more willing to negotiate.

      • 6ID20 - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:14 AM

        They’ll both sign. No hometown discount required. You want to talk about Rizzo guys? JZ is the ultimate Rizzo guy. Rizzo personally scouted him up in Wisconsin and talked Bowden into drafting him. Rizzo would sooner let Strasburg walk than lose Zimmermann.

      • manassasnatsfan - Jun 9, 2014 at 1:27 PM

        I think Desi will eventually sign. I think JZim might, but not a long 7 or 8 year one, but rather a 4 or 5 year one.

    • 6ID20 - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      No. They won’t trade Desmond and negotiations won’t go sour.

      • nats1924 - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:50 AM

        good thoughts…

        hm, interesting about Rizzo scouting JZ personally. I know he is exactly the type of guy Rizzo scouts look for. And I agree and do hope we extend JZim over Stras. I like Stras, but absolutely love JZim. JZim has the David Cone type of big game stuff.

        in the end, hope they both stay.

  9. NatsLady - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    Nats Stats for Week 10

    This was fun to write.

  10. Faraz Shaikh - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    Wonk, borrowed Dave trivia so I can show off in front of baseball buddies. Thanks!

  11. TimDz - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    I’m wondering if Tyler Moore gets traded within the next week or so to the Rangers….Given their situation of not having many options in house, and given the amount of team control over Moore, Rizzo should be able to get a nice return…

    • DaveB - Jun 9, 2014 at 12:20 PM

      Luis Sardinas looks like a really good MLB-ready prospect that is a backup now, and would be completely redundant when Profar eventually comes back. Would be nice if we could come up with a package that could include him, as I think he would be more reliable (offensively) than Danny long term.

      • manassasnatsfan - Jun 9, 2014 at 1:31 PM

        I was thinking about Sardinas too, knowing they probably wouldn’t throw in Odor. Sardinas and Odor are twins I think, their game look similar to older brother Profar.

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