SAN FRANCISCO -- At his introductory news conference last fall, manager Matt Williams made it clear he wanted strong defensive play to be the backbone of his team. He even created a new position on his coaching staff, hiring Mark Weidemaier to coordinate the Nationals' defensive alignments.
After a frustrating, mishap-filled start to the season, the defense has improved of late, perhaps none more so than Wednesday's diving catch-filled win over the Giants.
"I think guys have just settled into the season more. It's cold earlier, cold weather's a factor," Williams said before Thursday's series finale.
"Early I think it was a little bit of an aberration. There were some weird things. That being said, work hard, and they continue to and I think they're all just comfortable and settled in. It helps when you make diving plays, but I think overall it's been OK. The first month and a half was rough, but after that, it's been good."
The team has committed the fourth-most errors (51) in the Majors, but the mishaps are growing rarer. Sure, the weather is warmer now. And sure, new positions at the beginning of the season aren't as foreign anymore. But near full participation in voluntary fielding practice sessions is perhaps the biggest reason behind the fielding resurgence, Williams believes.
"That's just a credit to their work ethic. The fact that they want to be good at it; they understand the value of it," Williams said. "That's a pleasant surprise for me and it's much appreciated.
"They're concerned about it; they take pride in it. Nobody wants to make an error. They work hard and they work hard at getting better and at getting accustomed [to new positions]. I think they're back to playing the way they want to play."
Ryan Hood is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.