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Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 4: Williams gets fired

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Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 4: Williams gets fired

We are counting down the 10 biggest moments of 2015 for the Nationals as we approach New Year's Day. In the seventh installment, we look back at the downfall of Matt Williams as Nationals manager...

The precipitous fall of Matt Williams as Nationals manager was not only unlikely when the 2015 season began, but as late as Aug. 2, the last day the Nationals held a share of first place in the NL East division. He was the reigning NL Manager of the Year and, just like in 2014, he was in many ways overachieving with a roster depleted for much of the season due to injury.

Though some of his strategic decisions had come into question more so than in his first season in Washington, Williams was doing a good job. There were no public signs of dissension in the clubhouse and the Nats remained the favorite in the division. The Mets had made a few moves at the trade deadline, but the Nationals were getting healthy and logic would suggest they were about to take off.

It was only five weeks later that Williams was booed out of his press conference by fans at Nationals Park. That was after the Nats were swept for the second straight time by the Mets in a last-ditch series that essentially put the Nats down for good.

That moment alone may go down as one of the most indelible memories of Williams' tenure. Who gets booed out of their own press conference? It was an extremely unusual event that may have had no true precedent. It was not a good look at all for Williams, whose job security was becoming a serious question at the time.

The Nationals falling short of the playoffs in 2015 was one thing, as injuries took their toll all year and there were plenty of moments where his players simply didn't get the job done. But Williams did not do himself any favors during big games down the stretch with other decisions as well. The public fight between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, for one, reflected poorly on his leadership skills.

Williams' seat was already getting warm before Papelbon attacked Harper, but the way the skipper handled the situation may have been the final straw. Williams sent Papelbon back out to pitch after the closer choked the sport's best player on television. It was inexcusable and Williams didn't seem to fully understand the magnitude of it all until the following day when he began his press conference with a prepared statement.

Williams is gone, but the shocking devolution of the Nationals late in 2015 may have exposed issues that reach much further than the former Nats manager. The Nationals went from a first place team very quickly to one that couldn't stop losing streaks, cracked under pressure in big games and resorted to infighting and backstabbing through anonymous media reports. It will be interesting to see if any of the problems that surfaced under Williams persist despite the fact he is no longer in town.

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More from the countdown:

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 10: Scherzer signs

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 9: Trade deadline series vs. Mets

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 8: Scherzer's second no-hitter

Nats 2015 biggest moments No 7: Harper's 3 homers vs. Marlins

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 6: Final chance vs. Mets

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 5: Scherzer's first no-hitter

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Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Opening Day roster became much clearer Saturday following a slew of player moves by the Nationals.

Right-handed pitcher Joe Ross was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. After consideration of using Ross in the bullpen, the organization decided to send him to Triple A and stretch him out there. Manager Davey Martinez said they view Ross as a starter now and in the future.

Catcher Spencer Kieboom and right-handed starter Erick Fedde will go to Double-A Harrisburg. This is the first instance of a decision based on the change in Triple-A affiliation. The Nationals switched from Syracuse to Fresno in the offseason -- a move they did not have complete control of. So, Kieboom and Fedde will go to Harrisburg in order to be readily available should something happen to a player on the 25-man roster during the opening homestand.

Prospect Carter Kieboom, right-handed starter Henderson Alvarez, right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett, right-handed reliever Scott Copeland and left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno have been reassigned to minor-league camp.

Carter Kieboom impressed at the plate throughout the spring. He continues to learn second base after sliding over from his traditional shortstop position. Barrett takes another step in his comeback following Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. Martinez said he thinks Barrett will help the parent club at some point this season.

Washington has three spring training games remaining. Patrick Corbin and Joe Ross pitch in split-squad games Sunday. Monday, the team is back in the District for its final game of the exhibition season. The season opener is Thursday, March 28.

This round of cuts drops the team’s options to 30 players. Koda Glover (forearm), Howie Kendrick (hamstring) and Michael A. Taylor (hip/knee) are unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. That trio appears heading for the injured list. Which leaves two bench spots among utility player Adrian Sanchez, outfielder Andrew Stevenson or first baseman, and out-of-nowhere minor-leaguer, Jake Noll until Taylor and Kendrick are ready. Two bullpen spots are available to Wander Suero, Justin Miller and Austen Williams in that alignment.

The Nationals could keep all three relievers for Opening Day. That would give them a bench of catcher Kurt Suzuki, utility player Wilmer Difo, first baseman Matt Adams, and likely Stevenson as the fourth outfielder.

Another wrinkle: reliever Kyle Barraclough, who has a 5.19 ERA and has allowed three home runs in 8 ⅔ innings, still has options. Sending him down would be a significant pivot after the organization often touted him as one of its featured relievers.

Last, multiple off-days to start the season play into this equation. If the Nationals choose a smaller bullpen group, it will have more time than usual to recover. What we know is these players are coming to play Thursday:

Starting pitchers:
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin (L)
Anibal Sanchez
Jeremy Hellickson

Relievers:
Tony Sipp (L)
Matt Grace (L)
Wander Suero
Trevor Rosenthal
Sean Doolittle (L)

Position players:
Yan Gomes (C)
Kurt Suzuki (C)
Ryan Zimmerman (1B)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Trea Turner (SS)
Anthony Rendon (3B)
Adam Eaton (RF)
Victor Robles (CF)
Juan Soto (LF)
Wilmer Difo (Utility)
Matt Adams (1B)

A few decisions remain to determine who will join them.

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Davey Martinez reveals the top -- and bottom -- of his lineup

Davey Martinez reveals the top -- and bottom -- of his lineup

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We have a decision: Adam Eaton will leadoff, Trea Turner will hit second.

And, Victor Robles will reside at the bottom of the order in the ninth spot. Nationals manager Davey Martinez waffled during the spring about how to handle the top of the lineup. He recently made a decision, but declined to reveal it until asked again Saturday.

“After running all the numbers, I kind of like it,” Martinez said. “I like the fact he’s the first hitter they face. He’s a pest. I like the fact that he goes up there and sometimes gives 7-, 8-pitch at-bats, 9-pitch at-bats. And him hitting in front of Trea...Trea can hit and can drive in runs as well, so, having Robles hitting ninth, Eaton one, Trea two, that’s a pretty good combination.”

Both Eaton and Turner have led off the majority of their careers. Both would prefer to leadoff if given a straight choice. Here, Martinez decided for them.

A natural question is how such a structure would influence Turner’s opportunities to steal with either Juan Soto or Anthony Rendon right behind him. Martinez said it should have no bearing. Turner can just go.

“We want him to go,” Martinez said. “I think his biggest fear is maybe hitting in front of Anthony and Soto, but that shouldn’t deter what you do. We want him to steal bases.”

Robles is often going to hit ninth in order to align with Eaton and Turner. Martinez argues there is only one time when a player is the actual “leadoff” hitter. After that, the lineup churn begins.

So, here’s an Opening Day projection:


Eaton (L)
Turner
Soto (L)
Rendon
Zimmerman
Dozier
Gomes
Scherzer
Robles

One possible glitch is the catcher hitting in front of the pitcher. That could lead to situations where the pitcher is moving a runner, and the runner happens to be a catcher. Though, Gomes and Kurt Suzuki are above-average runners for their position.

Martinez said more information on the how and why of this decision is to come.

“Just what’s best as a whole lineup-wise, construction-wise,” Martinez said. “You’ll know more Opening Day why we want to do it, but I like Adam leading off.”

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