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Williams addresses criticism from media, fans

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Williams addresses criticism from media, fans

Matt Williams has heard the fervor building over the last few weeks. He knows the criticism being levied at him. But he knows he can’t get caught up in any of that.

“Well, it’s never any fun. I can tell you that,” the beleaguered Nationals manager said Wednesday afternoon. “But if I know anything about our group, or if I know anything about myself personally, when times are difficult, you put your head down and you go. You don’t have a choice in this game, other than to be prepared for today and let ‘er fly. That’s what we do.”

Williams has taken heat for in-game decision nearly since he started the job last season, from his controversial benching of Bryce Harper for a lack of hustle to his by-the-book pitching changes during the playoffs. He wound up winning NL Manager of the Year honors over the winter, but the criticism hasn’t subsided in his second year in the dugout, again much of it focused on his pitching moves and in-game strategy.

“It’s part of the job,” he said. “I know that we’re all, to a man in that clubhouse over there, doing everything we can to win a game. We stand by each other. I support our guys. I support our coaches. And we’re in this together.”

Media criticism has been present for awhile, but fan criticism has perked up considerably this summer. Rarely does Williams make a trip to the mound without hearing at least a smattering of boos.

The nadir likely came Tuesday night, on the heels of an 8-7 loss to the Mets that featured a seventh-inning meltdown by the Nationals’ bullpen, followed by Williams’ questionable decision to have Anthony Rendon bunt with no outs and the tying run on first base in the bottom of the ninth against New York closer Jeurys Familia. (Rendon wound up working the count to 3-1, then bunted a high, 98-mph fastball too hard, resulting in a force out at second base.)

Then came Williams’ postgame press conference, at the end of which a couple of fans watching from the adjacent Presidents Club could be heard booing as the manager wrapped up. The visual — a beleaguered skipper walking away after a horrific loss to boos in a location where that wouldn’t typically happen — was as bad as it gets.

“Our fan base is fantastic,” Williams said Wednesday. “They’re passionate about this team. They want us to win desperately, as we do. And we want provide that for them. We want to provide a quality team that they can come and enjoy watch play and they can get behind. Hopefully that starts today, and we can make a race of it.”

RELATED: Zimmerman, Taylor and Escobar all sit out vs. Mets

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer and Mike Rizzo met at the upper corner of the dugout railing Friday around 2 p.m. Scherzer, coming in from a bullpen session, leaned against the padded bar. Rizzo did most of the talking, at times using both hands and gesturing toward different parts of the field.

Scherzer walked into the dugout following the five-minute conversation with Rizzo. Turns out, everyone has questions and is searching for answers during this failing Nationals season.

Not long after the general manager and his Hall-of-Fame-bound starter finished their conversation, manager Davey Martinez came up the dugout steps to watch Anibal Sanchez throw a simulated game. Martinez’s emergence confirmed he was still in charge Friday. Rizzo’s words two hours later further entrenched that idea -- for now.

“We're not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said when asked his confidence level with Martinez as manager. “We've got a lot of season left. Davey's not happy with what's going on, nobody's happy with what's going on, the fanbase, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We've got to play better baseball.”

In a planned group session with reporters, Rizzo harped on a trio of points: One was the stage of the season, a second was the need to play cleaner baseball, the third centered on his hunt for bullpen help.

To the first, it’s a semantics dance. Washington, 19-31 coming into Friday following stomach-churning losses to a Mets team in disarray when the Nationals arrived at Citi Field last Sunday, are 30.9 percent into the season. Forty games is historically used as a marker for determining a team’s capabilities. The Nationals are beyond that point and in a deep corner. It’s no longer early because of the broad hole the Nationals have dug.

To the second, the call for cleaner baseball began last offseason. That it’s still being made May 24 is perhaps the most explanatory aspect of how the Nationals find themselves just 1.5 games in front of the trying-to-lose Marlins. Despite persistent harping on the concept, near-daily gaffes continue on the field. The Nationals often do early work, have extra meetings and try to drill down specific points. But, the attempts are betrayed time and again during the actual games, whether it’s baserunning, fielding or math-countering pitch selection.

To the last, Rizzo said he is in pursuit of bullpen fixes from any location: trade, waiver wire, wherever. He also expects those on the roster to perform better. This idea is akin to the demand for cleaner baseball, if with a shorter shelf life. The bullpen roared into the bottom of the league the second day of the season when it allowed seven runs across the eighth and ninth innings. It’s been atrocious since. Of the five relievers used that day, all five remain in the organization. Only Trevor Rosenthal is not on the active 25-man roster.

The three pillars of Rizzo’s discussion -- the calendar, bad baseball and tragic bullpen -- have conspired to put Martinez’s future at risk. He was more stern and explanatory in Friday’s pregame press conference before his boss delivered a proportional backing. Rizzo did not explicitly say Martinez will remain manager. He also did not say he would not. Instead, the generalist approach reigned.

“Well certainly you have to have a plan in place for all contingencies,” Rizzo said. “And like I said, we're fairly spoiled here. We've had winning records, we've been in first place for a lot of the last seven years. There's only three teams in all of baseball, I think, that have played .500 baseball over the last seven years. So we're certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we're at in the standings, and we always have a one-, three-, and five-year plan in our minds, and that'll continue.”

The question is how many of those years will include Martinez if this one continues on the same path.

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