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Ron Washington interview


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Interview conducted by DOB

 

Few individuals in baseball are as widely popular as Ron Washington, the Braves’ irrepressible, indefatigable third-base coach and infield defense guru. At age 69, he’s as enthusiastic as any of the players he works with on a daily basis — including dynamo Ozzie Albies — all of whom regularly heap praise on “Wash.”

The Braves clinched a fourth consecutive division title by sweeping the Phillies in the next-to-last series of the season, and one key to their success is an infield consisting of veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Austin Riley, shortstop Dansby Swanson and Albies, the second baseman who is especially close with Washington — the two are almost constantly engaged in good-natured, expletive-filled razzing.

Atlanta’s infield is only the second in MLB history to have four members with at least 25 homers apiece (all have at least 30 except Swanson, with 27). But the Braves’ foursome also is arguably as solid defensively as any in baseball. Each Atlanta infielder has credited Washington, who works with them daily in one-on-one fielding drills before batting practice, for helping them become proficient defenders.

Beyond that, Washington’s personality and demeanor — loud, brash, supportive, engaging, playful, fiercely loyal — has had a profound impact on the entire team.

Braves players say that seeing him working tirelessly day after day, doing his specialized drills with infielders — and occasionally outfielders, including Joc Pederson — even if it’s a day game after a night game and it’s 95 degrees with 90-percent humidity, makes them feel motivated or compelled to do the same.

The day after the Braves clinched, Washington was on the field Friday afternoon, doing early work with Albies and others, the same drills they do every day. No time to rest for Washington, who was as pleased and excited by the Braves’ strong finish as anyone in Atlanta, and fired up about taking momentum to the postseason.

After finishing his early work with them, the infielders went to a team meeting to discuss divvying up playoff shares and other matters. And Washington took a moment to sit on the grass at Truist Park and talk with The Athletic about his infielders and the season — an extremely eventful, long and winding one — and how it ended up where he always felt it should, with the Braves back on top of the division.

What have you thought about Austin Riley’s development this season?

I always believed in him. This year he had to take on a lot. And he matured. He matured from ’19 and ’20, and the big leagues didn’t shake him anymore. He has tremendous work ethic. He has aptitude. He’s got quickness for a big man. And what he’s doing with that bat, we can’t say we thought it was going to happen this year but we knew that was in him. It just came out a lot quicker than we expected. Which means that he’s able to apply. He’s understanding what pitchers are trying to do to him, he’s not chasing as many pitches, he’s taking walks. And his slugging percentage is just off the chart. Which we knew one day he would slug, we just didn’t expect it to happen this fast. But he’s a special kid, man. He’s very special. And in my opinion, he’s going to be a stud.

Austin said the big thing he did differently this year was not panic the way he would before when he’d go into a slump. He said in the past, he’d panic and try to change everything.

Well, that’s maturity. That came out of his mouth, that’s the only way you can look at it — that’s maturity. But what he’s doing, he’s capable of. It just wasn’t something that we expected to happen this fast, but he is capable of that. He really is.

And he’s continued to do it all season. He didn’t tail off and limp to the finish line or anything, he’s raked right to the end of the regular season, even after other teams developed updated scouting reports on him and pitchers made adjustments, all that.

That just goes to show you how quickly he matured. The game is about adjusting and readjusting. And just because you adjust one time, doesn’t mean that’s the end-all. You have to make another adjustment, and another adjustment, and another adjustment. Adjustments are ongoing, it’s continuous. And he figured that out. When I first got here, they said he’s the kind of kid that, when you give him a second chance somewhere, that’s when he shines. Last year was a 60-game season, he showed some stuff. But this is his first full big-league season. So, here it is, exactly what they said he was, is what he’s doing. This is this kid’s M.O. and I think it’s what you’re going to get as he continues to grow and continues to learn. And he doesn’t know everything yet. He’s still growing, he’s still learning. So, God, that’s scary.

I know, he’s only 24.

Yeah, he’s scary.

What about Ozzie Albies? You could make an MVP case for him, too.

I tell you what, you look at every one of those guys on that infield — the third baseman, the shortstop and the second baseman played together in the minor leagues. Now they’re mastering the game up here in the big leagues defensively. They’re still learning offensively. Dansby’s still learning offensively. Ozzie’s still got a lot to learn offensively; if he wasn’t so quick to try to hit every god**** thing he sees, just think how special he would be offensively. And you look at his numbers — the littlest guy in the big leagues, with the biggest heart, and standing tallest. And he’s the littlest guy in the big leagues.

And he’s still learning how to switch-hit.

He’s still learning how to play. You know? Of all three of them, Dansby is the most mature. And I think that’s because he’s been in some programs in his baseball career that helped him gain maturity much faster. But his (Swanson’s) game is getting better, too.

Have you had an infield as good defensively at every position as this? I know you had some really good infields at Oakland.

I had some good ones in Oakland, but I never had one that young. That matured that fast. They (Braves infielders) matured fast. You know, everybody can play defense. You can put a lot of people out there that can play defense. The key to playing defense is knowing how. Those three little kids, they’re showing you how. They’re showing you how. They know how. And that’s because they listen, they’re open to suggestions, they’re not afraid to try, and they show up every day with one purpose: To be the best that they can be for each and every one of their teammates. That’s special. And they showed that this year.

How about Dansby? He’s had some slumps, but he never seems to let that affect his defense.

No, because they’re separate. Again, we talked about maturity. They’re separate. When you don’t get hits, you steal hits. And every day you wake up, you can steal hits. Every day you wake up, you might not get a hit. Think about it. If that pitcher on the mound got his stuff that day, there ain’t going to be no hitting. But if a ball is put in play off a bat on that infield, you can make that (play). Every day. And they’ve been able to separate. They play defense — every single day, they play defense. Every single day they may not hit, but every single day they play defense, and defense is a huge part of baseball. So it keeps them engaged. When they can go out there and they can steal base hits from people and make plays, even though they’re not hitting, they’re still helping the team. And then when they get on the basepaths, they can run the bases. You know? They are going to be complete players. They already are complete players, but there’s still some growth in there. They haven’t reached their peak yet.

Yeah, there were some stretches this season when Dansby was unstoppable offensively, for a month or more a couple of times.

And this is what they all have to learn: When they start punching the ball out of the ballpark, they can’t forget to take what (the pitcher) gives them. If they’re just going to give you a fastball away, and all you can do is hit that sucker to right field for a base hit, you have to recognize that. That’s another part of their growth that’s going to come into play. Take what they give you until you get what you want. But when you’re young and you start punching the ball out of the ballpark, all of a sudden you become mighty (Washington puffs up his chest). You know what I’m saying? You become mighty.

Dansby and Ozzie have done that a few times this season, started getting a little pull-happy.

Yeah. Oh, yeah. 

In the last week or so Dansby got out of his lump and was hitting the ball to right-center again with authority.

Oh, yeah. Now he’s going back this way (points to right-center) and then he’s catching some balls to hit that way (to left), because he’s back this way (to right-center). And he’s going to learn to stay this way a lot longer. And so when he starts getting out of whack, it might last five or six at-bats instead of lasting 15 at-bats. See what I’m saying? It’s maturity. And that’s where they’re getting, man. That’s where they’re getting.

Freddie is special in his own right. You can pull Freddie out of his bed, with snow on the ground, put somebody out there throwing and Freddie can lay them out. But he’s been through the same process that Ozzie and Dansby and Riley’s going through. He’s about three or four years ahead of them, as far as experience. Maybe five years, as far as experience goes. And he’s always been a natural. They’re not natural; they had to work at it.

Freddie was born to hit.

Yeah. They had to work at it. And when Freddie is struggling and he’s got to work, he knows how to go to work. And once he finds it, it lasts a long time. He doesn’t find it and have it for a week, then lose it for two weeks, then find it and have it for a week. No, when Freddie finds it, it lasts months.

Twelve years in, and Freddie’s still out here doing the early one-on-one defensive work with you every day before batting practice.

That’s right. Because he cares. He cares. He cares about catching that ball. He cares, man. And that’s what’s so beautiful about watching them play. Because they care. They care. That’s it. You’ve got a lot of people that can play defense, but you ain’t got many that know how. My four guys, they know how, dog. They know how.

They’ve certainly been huge parts of this team’s success.

Oh, yeah. And they show up every day, man, with one thing in mind. Being the best they can be for their teammates. And that’s so tough to get 25 or 26 guys to all love each other, care about each other, do what has to be done to make each other successful. Handle each other’s problems. You’ve got a problem, they take on part of it for you; that’s less you’ve got to deal with. And the next thing you know, your problem is gone. That’s hard to get that. And in the past four years that I’ve been here, we’ve built that. And it doesn’t matter who comes in, they fall in line with how we go about our business. And if you look on the field when we’re working, we’re getting after it. Just look at the other teams. I ain’t saying they’re not coming on the field working, but you don’t see them getting after it like we get after it. Look in the outfield, they’re getting after it. Look in the infield, they’re getting after it. When the pitchers come out and do their thing, they’re getting after it. We get after it.

That’s how we ended up winning the division. The Mets and Phillies, they had a chance to run away with us. They stayed around, and when they stayed around and we caught them, from that point on all they seen was *** and elbows. Once we got in first place, we never looked back. And you know why? Because that’s where we were supposed to be. We didn’t get there and all of a sudden started worrying about it. We got there and started focusing and knowing, this is where we’re supposed to be. Now we’ve found our game, let’s keep it going. And that’s what we did. Once we found it, we kept going, dog.

Yeah, once you had that 16-2 run and took over first place, you’ve been there ever since.

We never looked sideways and we never looked behind us. And they jumped our lead down to a game and a half three or four times. Every time they got it down to a game and a half, what’d they do? What did we do? We got pedigree. We’ve been there and done that. We was waiting to get where we belong. Once we got where we belonged, it was over. It was ******* over. Lot of people didn’t think it was, but we knew it was god**** over. Because we are where we’re supposed to god**** be. We’re not looking at *** and elbows. They’re supposed to be looking at our *** and elbows. Once they did, they looked at it until we won.

I like this team for the postseason because the lineup is so deep and you’ve got those two aces at the top of the rotation (Max Fried and Charlie Morton) and Ian (Anderson) is coming along now, too.

You know, we were one game away last year. You don’t think that resonates inside of those kids? It resonates. They know they’re good enough.

And that was with so many young guys pitching out of their *** in the rotation last year in the playoffs.

Yeah. They know we’re good enough. Now all we’ve got to do is go and prove it. Not to anybody. To us. We’ve just got to go prove it to us. Because we know we’re good enough to play with anybody. I mean, we played San Francisco, and San Francisco didn’t blow us up. San Francisco’s got a **** good team — a **** good team. But guess what? Atlanta Braves have got a **** good team too. See what I’m saying?

In the past 10 days, you swept two teams that were still in playoff contention at the time — San Diego on the road and the Phillies at home to clinch.

And we’re doing what we’re doing without Ronald Acuña and (Marcell) Ozuna. If we would’ve had Ronald Acuña and Ozuna in our lineup all year, there wouldn’t have been no question about who was the best in the East. There wouldn’t have. There wouldn’t have been no question.

Nobody (in the division) wanted it. And when we went to New York and we played that five-game series, when we won three out of five? We should have won all five. We walked out of there saying, they’re in first place? That ******* team is in first place? You know what I’m saying? We said, them son of a ****** can’t play with us. You know what I mean? And we were hurting. And there were some things that we could have done a little better. We didn’t actually have the total personnel. But we stood tall with them. And they were in first place. And we walked out of there and said, “Nah-nah-nah-nah. Uh-uh. Bruh, we’ve just got to keep getting after it till **** comes together.” And we kept getting after it. We never stopped our work ethic. We never stopped going about our business the way we went about our business.

You hear the noise in the background, but that’s on the outside. The only **** that matters is what’s on the inside. And on the inside, we knew that we had a run in us. Long as we didn’t allow the people in front of us to get away from us, we knew we had a run in us. And then we found our run. And once we found our run, we know who we are, and now we go play like who we are.

We lost a lot of games coming (out) of that bullpen that we were winning (in the past). A lot. Going into the seventh inning with a three- or four-run lead and losing? That didn’t happen (in the past). Going into the eighth inning with a two-run lead and losing? That didn’t happen. But we knew we had the personnel to make it happen. It was just a matter of when we were going to consistently, together, find our groove. And we found it. And once we found it, it’s not going to get away from us. Now when we lose, you’re going to have to beat us. Now when we lose, you have to beat us. Early in the year, we sort of gave it y’all. But nobody wanted to run away (in the East). And since nobody ran away, the people that should be in front — guess what? They got crowned.

We should’ve been in front, and we never doubted that. But the thing about this game, you’ve got to play. You can’t talk about it if you don’t walk the walk. Can’t talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk. And eventually we started walking the walk. Finally, we got our act together. Our starting pitchers started going deep in ballgames. We started being able to use the proper people coming out of the bullpen on a nightly basis. And then all of a sudden, the non-essential guys down there, when we started to use them they started doing a little better job. And that’s what it takes to be successful. And we finally got the right formula at the right time.

But we never doubted that either Philly or New York was going to run away from us. Because when we played them — we respect them, but when we played them … man, we can beat those guys. Our game is better than theirs. And at the right time, we showed that to Philly just a few days ago.

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4 hours ago, Unknøwn said:

Why this man isn't a manager somewhere I do not know. The Padres hired Tingler over Washington two years ago. I hope he stays in Atlanta, I'd run through a **** wall after reading all of that for him. 

I just pray to the baseball gods we get to keep him. I feel that he'll be a manager somewhere next year but man as much as I love Snit, I wish Wash could be in a role he'd want to stay for the rest of his career. You can tell the players adore him, he's a legendary coach, I'd love Wash as manager if it was the only way to keep him.

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6 hours ago, Unknøwn said:

Why this man isn't a manager somewhere I do not know. The Padres hired Tingler over Washington two years ago. I hope he stays in Atlanta, I'd run through a **** wall after reading all of that for him. 

I'd be shocked if Padres don't nab him this time around.

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