On opening day 2014, the Washington Nationals did something they were not able to do until June of their disappointing 2013 season. Today, the Nationals won a game in which they trailed by three or more runs and where they trailed after the sixth inning. Washington did not accomplish these tasks until June 28 and June 5 of 2013, respectively. For the Nationals, it’s safe to say things may already be looking up.
There were a lot of things to like about their ten inning win over the New York Mets, comeback included. The Nationals were able to get to the Mets’ bullpen, work counts and take advantage of their opponents mistakes. How many times in 2013 did teams set the Nationals up for a big inning only to get out of the self-imposed jam? Too many. Today, however, Washington was able to take advantage of bases-loaded walks, which allowed them to tie the game. Their bullpen also looked strong, as Drew Storen had a strong inning where he struck out two and did not allow a hit. Rookie Aaron Barrett also had a strong inning where he struck out two batters and looked sharp.
There were also some small scale negatives in the game, as Bryce Harper was hit in the head by second baseman Eric Young‘s shin, and was down for a few minutes. Of course, it was an unavoidable play based on how Harper slid, but it will somehow be skewed into the play being Harper’s fault. Tyler Clippard also allowed a go ahead home run to Juan Lagares in the eighth inning and Stephen Strasburg was shaky to start the game, though, he did settle in nicely after a three-run inning.
One other highlight today was Matt Williams‘ managerial debut. After speaking of having a restless night’s sleep and having nervous energy, Williams settled in to watch his team fight and claw out of an early hole to beat a team they are better than. But did Williams complicate the game by over-managing, and could his moves have come back to bite the Nationals had they been playing a better team? It’s a fair question to ask, as Williams was very heavy handed in his bench and bullpen usage. Sure, Strasburg had a high pitch count, but there were some curious moves that were made.
Williams had Kevin Frandsen come out to pinch hit for Strasburg in the seventh inning, but then Mets manager Terry Collins made a counter move, bringing in righty Carlos Torres. Frandsen was apparently called into the game, and was then pinch hit for with Nate McLouth. All Williams had to do was wait for Collins to make a move and then make his move rather than jumping the gun and burning two bench players. That inability to hold back Frandsen caused Williams to double switch out Ryan Zimmerman, since Williams probably did not want to use Scott Hairston, who ended up as the last player on the bench.
Williams’ Nationals showed some resolve and tenacity that was absent from their 2013 incarnation. That is a very good thing to see, but we must not forget Williams is a rookie manager, and could over-manage at times, which could lead to some odd decisions. We saw that first hand today.