Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams covers many topics in Northern Nevada visit
RENO — Matt Williams was cordial in making the rounds with media and supporters before appearing at a Reno Rotary meeting Monday at Harrah’s Reno Hotel & Casino.
But it was clear Williams was a little more enthusiastic when he saw his former high school baseball coach Ron McNutt and his wife, Terrie.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Williams yelled out as he and the McNutts approached each other before exchanging hugs and pleasantries. Williams, a 1983 Carson High graduate, said he still has friends in Carson City and does remember — although not so fondly — the kind of weather he caught the tail end of which brought a few inches of snow to the area.
“I don’t know if you ever get used to it,” said Williams about the area’s winter weather. “It brings back some memories of trying to clear the infield and take some grounders.”
Williams is now spending his time in Arizona where he has returned to be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ third base coach. Williams also will be the infield coach for the Diamondbacks.
The former Major League Baseball star third baseman should be a good fit as Arizona’s infield coach since he won four Gold Gloves, another fact he pointed out to a supporter who asked him if had ever won a Gold Glove.
Williams comes back to Arizona following his firing as the Washington Nationals manager after the 2015 season. Williams was fired just a year after being named National League Manager of the Year when he led the Nationals to the NL’s best overall regular season record.
Bob Gephard, Arizona’s vice president and special assistant to the general manager who also made an appearance at Monday’s Rotary meeting, said while he was glad Williams was back with the Diamondbacks, he felt Williams’ firing was unfair considering all the injuries the Nationals had last season.
“I felt bad for what happened to Matt,” he said.
When asked what he learned from last season, Williams said, “You don’t have enough space in your column. I can tell you that a lot of learning experiences that came about I will hopefully be able to take with me as a coach.”
When asked if he would like to manage again Williams said “who knows” if he’ll ever have the chance to manage again. But said no matter if it’s as a coach or manager he just wants to be a part of the daily “grind” of Major League Baseball.
“That’s a lot of fun for me,” he said. “I love that part of it.”
Williams will be part of the daily grind as Arizona’s third base and infield coach.
“It’s the closest thing to managing,” said Williams about being a third base coach. “You make decisions on the field. You’re in every play from an offensive standpoint.”
And Williams will be in every play from a defensive standpoint as well as he will be positioning the infield. The two most controversial topics in Major League Baseball now are the possible implementation of the designated hitter in the National League and regulating — or even eliminating — the use of exaggerated shifts. It’s become common for teams to place three infielders on one side with the second baseball in shallow right field to form a “wishbone defense.”
Williams was diplomatic when asked about the use of shifts.
“I think there’s a lot of brilliant people in our industry that have a lot to offer,” he said when commenting on ideas those in baseball have concerning the shift.
But he said he will use whatever tools are at his disposal, including the shift, when defending against hitters.
“We need to make it as easy as we can to get outs,” said Williams, noting the more outs starting pitchers record, the longer they stay in games and the more bullpens are saved.
“Of course, we’ve got to make sure that we make it as efficient as possible,” Williams added when positioning the infield.
Williams was less diplomatic about the DH, noting he played all of his years, except one, in the National League.
“I’m a purist as far as that part of the game,” he said.
But he noted the reality of whatever changes are made to the game: “It will always come down to negotiations between the owners and the players association.”
Arizona arguably made the most waves during the offseason and the biggest signing of the offseason when it signed ace pitcher Zack Greinke. Williams said Arizona has cause to be “very optimistic. We have what it takes to be very competitive with anybody this year. We have some really great athletes.”
About all those in the organization, Williams said, “The group made some really great acquisitions this winter. I’m excited to work with all of them.”
And spring training is just around the corner, beginning on Feb. 17 for pitchers and catchers.
“Once you get past all of the holidays, for us, it becomes baseball season.”