August 21, 2018

Nats Nightly: Matt Williams fired as manager

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals dismissal of manager Matt Williams and the entire coaching staff.

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Washington Nationals fire manager Matt Williams, entire coaching staff

“This is not an easy thing. This is a business and as such requires some very, very tough difficult choices and this certainly was one of them.” — Mike Rizzo

MANAGER OF THE YEAR AWARD IN 2014, MISSES PLAYOFFS IN ’15

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced today that field manager Matt Williams was relieved of his duties.

Additionally, bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier have also been informed their contracts will not be renewed.

“A tough day for me personally,” Rizzo said at Monday’s press conference from Nationals Park. “A tough day for our entire organization, but these are the first of the decisions that we felt we needed to make as we meticulously evaluate why the 2015 season didn’t go the way we had hoped. [Read more…]

Nationals Fire Entire Coaching Staff

The Nationals let their entire coaching staff go this morning, including manager Matt Williams, pitching coach Steve McCatty, bench coach Randy Knorr, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and advance coach Mark Weidemaier, according to MLB.com.

Matt Williams amassed a record of 179-145 in two seasons at the helm of the Nationals, but lost the division series in 2014, and failed to make the postseason despite a tremendously talented squad in 2015.

Report: Matt Williams to be fired as Washington Nationals manager

The Washington Nationals will fire Matt Williams as the team’s manager at the end of the season, according to CBS Sports.

The move comes as an expected beginning to a crucial and surely eventual offseason for the organization. 2015 saw preseason talk of a World Series title give way to an 81-78 record (at press time) and the face of the franchise, Bryce Harper, get choked in the dugout in the season’s penultimate home game by closer and trade deadline acquisition Jonathan Papelbon. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 155 Review: Nats Fall Apart in Finale Against the Phillies

As if being eliminated from the playoffs not even 24 hours earlier wasn’t enough, the Washington Nationals experienced a complete meltdown in the ninth inning of Sunday’s home game against the Philadelphia Phillies who beat the Nats 12-5.

To make matters worse, closer Jonathan Papelbon assaulted outfielder Bryce Harper in the dugout after Harper popped out to left field in the eighth inning. To add to the escalating in-game tension, Papelbon went back out to pitch the ninth and Harper was replaced by outfielder Matt den Dekker who switched from left to right field. [Read more…]

More off-field drama for Nationals in aftermath of Papelbon-Harper altercation

It’s unacceptable.

There are ways to let a teammate know you think he isn’t playing the game “the right way.” And then, there’s what Jonathan Papelbon did Sunday afternoon.

As if the Washington Nationals needed any more drama heading into the off-season after missing the playoffs in a season they started out as near-unanimous World Series picks.

You’ve seen it by now. Bryce Harper, everyone’s N.L. MVP, didn’t bust his hump on a pop-up in the bottom of the eighth inning in what was still a 4-4 game. Papelbon jaws at Harper the entire way off the field, then once Harper is in the dugout, below Papelbon’s vantage, Papelbon goes for Harper’s throat and the two have to be separated.

Here’s the entirety, if you missed it.

Papelbon is clearly in the wrong, on all accounts. It’s not his duty to police Harper’s actions, especially from the top of the dugout in front of his teammates and within view of national television cameras. It’s especially wrong to continue the confrontation in a physical manner.

This, on the heels of Papelbon awaiting a hearing for his three-game suspension for throwing at Manny Machado last week. It’s twice in a week Papelbon has resorted to violence to enforce his view of baseball’s unwritten rules. He’s a dangerous menace.

After the exchange, manager Matt Williams inexplicably allowed Papelbon to go out and pitch the ninth, in which the Phillies proceeded to score eight runs.

Williams was obviously asked about the incident in his post-game press conference. Here was the exchange:

Q: What was behind your decision to send Papelbon back out for the ninth?

A: At the time, it’s a tie game.

Q: But given what happened?

A: He’s our closer.

Q: It appeared [Papelbon] put his hands on [Harper’s] throat?

A: He’s our closer. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. He’s our closer. In a tie game, he’s in the ballgame in the ninth inning.

Let’s forget, for an instance, that Papelbon only agreed to the trade to D.C. because the Nats acquiesced to his demand that he only pitch in save situations, the reason he only pitched four time in the first 18 days he wore the uniform.

The idea that the manager can allow any player, but especially the pitcher, to go back onto the field into a tied game after an altercation in the dugout — which, by the way, that player instigated — is simply incredible.

After the game, Papelbon told reporters that he apologized to Harper, that he was “in the wrong.” Harper said it was like brothers fighting, and he was concentrating on the remaining games on the schedule. The players tried to say the right things and de-escalate the situation.

But actions speak louder than words. Papelbon has a long and inglorious history of this type of behavior and absolutely nothing good has happened since the Nats traded for him at the deadline.

As for Williams, his words in the press conference continue to reinforce the idea of his tone-deafness and inability to deviate from his set plan.

Describing the incident as a “family issue” that would be handled internally is akin to brushing it off. He essentially once again acquiesced to Papelbon, tacitly backing him as opposed to standing up for the team’s MVP in an altercation that luckily got no one hurt.

And all the while, Mike Rizzo says nothing, allowing the situation to linger and cast a pall on what little baseball is left.

Instead of celebrating Harper’s MVP season, instead of sending impending free agents Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond off in style, we’re left with this: watching the worst trade deadline acquisition of the season — maybe of all time — choke out the team and league’s MVP in the dugout of a tied game, then allowed back onto the field while the manager sits idly.

It’s been a long season. The offseason promises lots of turnover. Some of it was by design. Some of it now will be out of necessity. The turmoil surrounding the Nats is palpable. What just a few months ago seemed a model franchise is now under scrutiny for dysfunction.

Before Aug. 1, the play on the field wasn’t what everyone wanted, but they were still in first place. Since the trade for Papelbon, it’s all gone to hell — on the field and off. The trade was a mistake at the time, and now will prove infinitely more so.

I wrote in my piece yesterday the Nats wasted another year of Harper and Stephen Strasburg in their primes. How they handle this altercation could hasten their departure from D.C.

Washington Nationals Game 146 Review: Nats Fall Short Against Marlins

The Miami Marlins beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Thursday night in Washington, D.C. Starting pitcher Tanner Roark lasted five innings against the Marlins while giving up six runs on eight hits — including two home runs — and striking out four batters. Roark threw 80 pitches and 54 strikes.

Miami dug into Roark right away starting with lead off man and second baseman Dee Gordon. Gordon opened the game up with a single before third baseman Martin Prado went long with one out putting the Marlins up 2-0.

Washington tied it up at 2-2 in the second inning  when outfielder Jayson Werth scored on a two-run homer crushed by shortstop Ian Desmond off Marlins starting pitcher Jarred Cosart. The Nats didn’t manage to get another run again until the sixth inning and it was already too late by that point.

The Marlins took a four-run lead in the fifth inning against Roark and the Nats on four hits. Shortstop Miguel Rojas led off the inning with a double before scoring on a sacrifice fly hit by Gordon making it a 3-2 ballgame. A pair of back-to-back singles hit by outfielder Christian Yelich and Prado followed by a three-run homer hit by first baseman Justin Bour was the game’s “decider” moment according to Washington’s Manager Matt Williams with the Marlins up 6-2.

The Nats had an opportunity in the eighth inning to tie up the game but only managed a pair of runs. Washington left the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate while falling to Miami 6-4. Third baseman Anthony Rendon led off the inning with a single off reliever Brian Ellington and moved to scoring position on a single hit by outfielder Bryce Harper off reliever Mike Dunn. A two-out , two-RBI single hit by Desmond off reliever Bryan Morris putting the Nats within reach of the Marlins but it wasn’t enough.

HERO: Desmond for presenting the Nats with a clutch offensive performance. He went 2-for-4 with a home run and a single. Washington only had six hits on Thursday. He had two of them.

GOAT: Roark didn’t get the job done. It’s that simple.

NATS NOTES: 

  • Closer Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable today due to falling ill. He had a fever.
  • The Nats bullpen held the Marlins for four innings tonight. Nobody scored against Doug Fister, Matt Grace, Rafael Martin, and Matt Thornton.

UP NEXT: Jose Fernandez (5-0, 2.06) and the Miami Marlins face Max Scherzer (12-11, 2.91) and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. at 7:05 p.m.

OPINION: Nats collapse against Mets a potential organization-changing loss

Let me very clear about this up front: Matt Williams instructing Anthony Rendon to bunt in the ninth inning Tuesday night was not the reason the Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets at home for the second straight game. It might be why they didn’t win, but it’s not why they lost.

No, that distinction falls to Drew Storen and his maddening inability to throw strikes in what was the highest of high-leverage situations he’ll see all season long. Storen is so wrapped up in his anger and disappointment about being removed from the closer’s spot once again that it’s spilled over into his pitching. There’s no other way to analyze the situation.

How effective would you be if your bosses demoted you and sent a national press release out about it?

The reason behind his poor performance is mechanical: he has sped up his delivery, causing him to “fly open” where his arm lags behind the rest of his body. This causes trouble locating his fastball and overthrowing the slider, resulting in poor location. Until last night, it’s just made him wild in the strike zone and open to more contact.

Last night, he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

But this column isn’t about Storen.

No, it’s about Matt Williams and what has become a nightly dissection of every single decision he makes through the course of a baseball game.

Up until he ordered Rendon to bunt last night, Williams hadn’t made any glaring mistakes. It was reasonable to ask Blake Treinen to start the seventh inning. Williams got Treinen out quickly enough and turned to Felipe Rivero, who was the next lefty up since he’d already burned Matt Thronton to bail out Jordan Zimmermann in the sixth.

Rivero, though, had nothing, walking both batters he faced,  including the left-handed Curtis Granderson — to force in a run.

In came Storen, the former closer and now eighth-inning-guy, to try to rescue the seventh inning. It didn’t work. As so many of Williams’ decisions have failed of late.

All of those decisions, though, are defendable. At some point, your pitchers have to throw a strike. There’s so much pressure on this bullpen that they are suffocating now. They are pitching to avoid contact, pitching scared. It’s not just Storen, though he’s the main and obvious culprit.

I usually don’t like attributing performance problems to body language, but it was obvious watching on TV last night and the close-up cut-ins of Storen’s face that he was pitching while simultaneously appearing confused, terrified and angry at the home plate umpire.

For both parties’ sakes, it’s probably time to move him out of high-leverage situations and eventually let him move on.

But after the homer against Jonathan Papelbon put his team down, Williams was once again put in a challenging situation and he failed to rise to it.

Jayson Werth singled to lead off the ninth inning, bringing the winning run to the plate. That second point is key. Instead of letting Rendon — one of his team’s hottest hitters — hit away (with his 2-3-4 hitters due), Williams ordered him to sacrifice; to give up one of the three remaining outs he had left. It’s a spectacularly poor decision.

Over 100 years of statistics in professional baseball tells us a player scores from first with no outs more often than a runner at second with one out. Yet managers continue to give up an out to lower their chances of scoring.

Rendon, who’s only been asked to sacrifice a handful of times in his baseball career, failed, with his bunt forcing Werth at second base. Even if he’d been successful, the Mets still would have walked Bryce Harper, due next. By taking the bat out of Rendon’s hands, you surrendered a chance of something good happening from his at bat — and Harper’s. It’s doubtful that if Rendon simply had struck out, the Mets would have walked Harper with a man on first to put the winning run on base.

Essentially, Williams took the bat out of both Rendon’s and Harper’s hands. His two best hitters.

Williams said post-game he wanted to avoid the double-play.

Williams — by his decision and words — managed last night in the hopes of avoiding something bad instead of allowing his player the opportunity to do something good. He’s been doing this on a constant basis the second half of the season.

National baseball media has taken Williams to task, making him a laughingstock of late for his nightly mismanagement of the bullpen and other short-sighted decisions. GM Mike Rizzo has spoken a couple of times now on Williams’ behalf, defending him. It’s become a distraction, the last thing you want your field manager to be.

Matt Williams wasn’t the reason the Nats lost last night. But his constant decision-making process to avoid the bad rather than create the good indicates that he’s lost confidence in his players and is trying to impact the game himself rather than allow his players’ talent and ability to do the job.

For that reason alone, it’s time for a change.

Washington Nationals Game 137 Review: Brutal Loss for the Nationals

NATS DROP OPENER TO THE METS 8-5, FALL FIVE GAMES OUT

Some series are more important than others. Some series are where your team distinguishes itself from the competition, comes alive, and works to show their championship pedigree. On Monday afternoon, that was the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Their come-from-behind 8-5 win was the sort of game a playoff-bound team wins.

This Nationals-Mets tilt is the most important either team has played all season, and the atmosphere at Nationals Park was electric on Monday afternoon. The two teams traded haymakers on a holiday afternoon for a sold out crowd at Nationals Park, before it all fell apart for the Nationals in the seventh. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 120 Review: Rockies top Nationals 3-2

WHERE HAS ALL THE OFFENSE GONE, LONG TIME PASSING

Max Scherzer and Yohan Flande went blow for blow on Thursday night in Denver, the Cy Young winner vs. the youngster with less than 100 innings pitched in the majors. Max Scherzer allowed three runs on 8 hits through 6+ IP, while Flande allowed two and drove in one. The Nationals had just four hits in Thursday’s matchup, and fell four games back of the Mets with 42 games to play.

Flande was just as impressive at the plate as he was on the mound, sparking the Rockies’ rally in the fifth, and driving in their second run in the sixth. He finished the night 3-for-3 against Scherzer, tied for second on the year for most hits against Scherzer. Odubel Herrera of the Phillies leads with four in 13 at-bats.

Though Scherzer only gave up a trio of runs, he was not his usual impressive self on Thursday night. Scherzer walked three, and had a number of pitches in the dirt as he worked to locate his slider. Largely dependent on his changeup for his out pitch, Scherzer was having to grind to work his way through the Rockies’ lineup. His final line of 6+ IP, 8H, 3 ER, 3 BB (1 IBB), and 7 K won’t make it to any highlight reels.

The Nationals struck back in the top of the seventh, with Ryan Zimmerman getting a walk, and Michael A. Taylor destroying a fastball down the groove into the center field stands to tie the game at two. Taylor’s 493-foot blast was the 11th of his rookie year, and the longest on record in the majors this year.

The home half of the seventh inning was a peculiar thing to take in. Max Scherzer, at 90 pitches or so, came out to take the rock in the bottom of the seventh. Jose Reyes singled to center to start the inning, and Matt Williams came to get his ace. Felipe Rivero came in to face Carlos Gonzalez, who beat the defense the other way to move Reyes to second. Blake Treinen got the call from the bullpen, and came in to strike out Nolan Arenado on a slider up in the zone. He wouldn’t get so lucky against lefty Ben Paulsen, who drove in Reyes on a bloop single to center, shallow enough and slow enough to score Reyes from second.

Why Williams wanted Treinen with the lefty matchup is unclear to me at press time, especially given that lefties hit .322/.398/.471 against him this year. Given that the bullpen has had a restful series in Colorado, Williams had a panoply of options, and it seems Treinen was an odd choice. The inning would conclude on a wild pitch to another lefty, Daniel Descalso, as Carlos Gonzalez couldn’t commit to running home, or get back to 3rd fast enough.

The ninth saw a leadoff single for Bryce Harper – only the Nationals’ fourth hit of the day – against John Axford. The cagey closer would drop a perfectly placed 3-2 curve on the corner to Yunel Escobar to rack the first out of the ninth. Ian Desmond swung right through a 2-2 slider to put the game on the line with two outs. Ryan Zimmerman forced a walk from Axford in a beautiful at-bat, putting Taylor at the plate for the big moment. He’d swing through a high fastball, and that would end the game.

The Mets were off Thursday, and the Nationals fell to four games back of the Division with 42 to play.

HERO: Michael A. Taylor for his tape-measure blast in the seventh to tie the game at two.

GOAT: Max Scherzer and Matt Williams, for equal parts bad bullpen management and a rough night – his third straight start – with control problems to boot.

NATS NOTES:

  • 493 feet is 9 feet longer than Giancarlo Stanton’s league-leading 484-foot homers for Miami.
  • If the Mets finished 21-21, the Nationals would need to finish 25-17 to force a tiebreaker.

NEXT UP: The Nationals return home to face the Brewers on Friday night. Gio Gonzalez (9-5, 3.86) vs. Jimmy Nelson (9-9, 3.61) at 7:05pm.

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