WASHINGTON, D. C. – For the last two seasons, the Diamondbacks only reached the .500 level and fortunes, and the future, appeared at a standstill.
General manger Kevin Towers, Ken Kendrick, the team’s managing general partner, Derrick Hall, the club’s CEO, field manager Kirk Gibson and other luminaries, all predicted a comeback from the insignificant past and rewards ahead.
All the while Matt Williams, Gibson’s third base coach and one with managerial aspirations, began to explore options and attempt to thrust his career forward.
The timing of his aspirations and the current decline in Diamondbacks fate, Williams concedes, was not a formula for his departure last winter and eventual ascendancy to mange the Washington Nationals.
Though he lacked previous manager experience at the major league level, Williams’ reputation as a major contributor to the game help catapult his managerial objective. As manager of Salt River in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, Williams took the Rafters to the championship game and quickly interviewed, before last season, to manage the Colorado Rockies.
When Walt Weiss was selected for the Colorado job, Williams repaired back to the third base coaching box for Gibson, and waited.
Fast forward one year later and long-time major league manager Davey Johnson announced his retirement as skipper of the Washington Nationals. Again, Williams became a prominent name and this time, he connected.
Named as Washington’s fifth manager since the franchise relocated from Montreal, Williams says the Diamondbacks’ bleak outlook for the 2014 season, and previous two .500 seasons, did not influence his desire to seek career options.
“I didn’t sense a transition,” Williams said Monday prior to the Nationals’ game with Colorado at Nationals Park. “In all direction, (Kendrick, Hall, Towers and others) gave me their full support to furthering a career. Nothing but great support.”
The timing would seem genuine for Williams to move up the baseball ladder.
As a participant on 11 championship teams in his 17 year major league career, Williams also played on three teams which went to the World Series, including the 2001 championship team with the Diamondbacks.
At age 48, Williams appeared to have served his apprenticeship well and ready to take the next step. The timing of his career elevation and the Diamondbacks current period of decline seemed to have crossed in time.
By all accounts, Williams is taking the physical skills honed as player and time coaching into an amalgam of accomplishment.
Coming into play Monday night against the Rockies, Williams had his Nationals just one-half game behind first-place Atlanta in National League East.
“(Williams) knows the game well and understands what players go through,” said Nats’ outfielder Nate McLouth, for whom Williams is his fifth major league manager. “He’s been through this. Look, everyone has success and everyone struggles at some point in their careers. What’s good about (Williams) is that he understands from our perspective.”
For his part, Williams is settling into the task at hand. With the second half about to embark, Williams, a native of Bishop, Calif. but grew up in Carson, Nev. approaches the period ahead from an offensive perspective.
“For us to stay in the race, we need to put offensive pressure on the opposition,” he said. “That’s the key and that’s where we want to go. There’s no reason why we can’t do that and then, we’ll have a shot to compete in the division.”
As well, the Nationals need to address Williams’ approach. To that end, Williams is quick to point a principal priority for his club.
“If we are able to put that pressure on the opponent each night, we also have to put together good-bats ourselves,” he indicated. “Then, we have a chance to win every night.”
Translated, that combination would likely serve Washington well, or any contender, with the second half about to commence.
CATCHING UP WITH …
Rockies’ third baseman Ryan Wheeler, currently filling in for Nolan Arenado, and whom Colorado acquired from the Diamondbacks for reliever Matt Reynolds during the 2012-13 off-season, has settled well into manager Walt Weiss’ plans.
Waiting for Arenado to return from time on the disabled list from a broken finger on his right hand, Wheeler hammered his first career grand-slam last Thursday night against Brewers’ righty Wily Peralta. The four RBIs in the game was a career high and Wheeler was in the line-up Monday night against Nats’ right-hander Jordan Zimmerman.
Coming into Monday’s game, Wheeler was hitting .273 with two bombs and 12 RBIs.