Williams gets first crack at guiding Nationals
Excited new manager opens with fifth-starter hopeful Jordan facing Mets on MLB.TV
VIERA, Fla. -- Matt Williams will manage his first game as Nationals manager on Friday afternoon against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and he has the players to go to the postseason this year.
It helps that the Nationals made their rotation better by trading for right-hander Doug Fister and bolstering their bench by signing outfielder Nate McLouth.
Williams has done everything he can to prepare his team for the 2014 season. During workouts, Williams made sure the Nats focused and defense and fundamentals. They finished near the bottom in team defense last year.
"It's nerve-racking, because I've never been on this side of it [managing], but at the same time, it's rewarding that we have gotten here and now we are on the verge of starting games and having it ramp up a little bit faster for everybody, so I look forward to it," Williams said.
Here is Williams' first lineup for Friday's game against the Mets, which will be broadcast live on MLB.TV at 1:10 p.m. ET:
1. McLouth -- RF
2. Danny Espinosa -- 2B
3. Ryan Zimmerman -- 3B
4. Adam LaRoche -- 1B
5. Ian Desmond -- SS
6. Wilson Ramos -- C
7. Tyler Moore -- DH
8. Scott Hairston -- LF
9. Eury Perez -- CF
Taylor Jordan -- P
Williams and his coaching staff will have to make decisions when it comes to putting together the 25-man roster. They must decide who will be the fifth starter, and right-hander Taylor Jordan will get his first chance to audition Friday.
"It's pretty cool that I'll be starting the first game, considering it was more than I thought I was going to get," Jordan said. "I think it's going to be a good game. I'm just very excited."
Youngster A.J. Cole is in his first Major League camp, and he wants to show the Nationals that he is ready for the big leagues this year. He will pitch right after Jordan on Friday.
"I want to help the team out," Cole said. "I'm trying to work hard ... and make their decision a lot easier. Yes, I feel I can pitch [in the big leagues], but I also would like my pitches to be there when I need them."
Rated by MLB.com as the third-best prospect in the Nationals' farm system in 2013, Cole was a combined 10-5 with a 3.60 ERA for Class A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. His best work was in Harrisburg. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s, but he has spent the spring on his secondary pitches.
"The changeup has come a long way," Cole said. "I'm still working on the consistency of my curveball. I feel like it's there."
Reliever Christian Garcia will make his first appearance in a Nationals uniform since the 2012 National League Division Series against the Cardinals. Garcia missed the entire Major League season in 2013 because of forearm, shoulder and hamstring injuries. Pain free, Garcia is looking to make the team as a reliever.
"I'm excited, very humble, very thrilled to have the opportunity just to go out there and show them I can do it," Garcia said. "It's all about opportunities. I feel they have given me so many chances, so many opportunities."
The battle at second base will begin in earnest on Friday. Danny Espinosa, who is trying to beat out Anthony Rendon, will get the start at second.
Espinosa is coming off the worst year of his career and spent most of the season at Triple-A Syracuse. Espinosa must cut down on his strikeouts and be more consistent at the plate if he wants to make the team.
The switch-hitting Espinosa knows what he has to do to be more consistent -- stop thinking too much.
"From the left side, I know how many more at-bats I get left-handed," he said recently. "I think, sometimes, I dissect my swing so much that I'm up there thinking about my swing. I'm not thinking about seeing the ball or hitting the ball. I'm thinking about what I worked on and what I'm trying to do.
"Right-handed, having less amount of at-bats, I'm just staying on my swing and having a swing to where I feel good and not working on mechanics. I just go in the cages and say, 'I'm just going to loosen up. I'm going to hit the ball hard and feel good.' I don't dissect my swing right-handed like I do left-handed. I'm trying to carry that to the left-handed side. I'm trying to feel good, feel consistent."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.