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After disappointing season, Nationals fire Matt Williams as manager

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Manager Matt Williams was fired by the Washington Nationals on Monday after a season in which the team went from World Series favorite to failing to make the playoffs.

The club announced the move a day after finishing the regular season barely above .500 at 83-79, second to the New York Mets in the NL East.

Williams is gone after only two seasons in his first job as a skipper in the majors. Last year, he was voted NL Manager of the Year after the Nationals finished with the best record in the league. In February, the Nationals exercised his 2016 contract option.

But he presided over a 2015 season filled with defeats, discord and the embarrassing spectacle of a dugout dustup between NL MVP front-runner Bryce Harper and teammate Jonathan Papelbon during a game the day after the team was eliminated from playoff contention.

Williams said he had no idea of the extent of the skirmish until much later in the day. Even though he was, of course, in the dugout at the time, Williams said he hadn't been aware of exactly what happened — including that Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat. None of his players or coaches told him about it right away, and he said he hadn't asked to know more.

The Nationals also said Monday they will not renew the contracts of the seven members of Williams' staff: bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier.

General manager Mike Rizzo said before Sunday's season finale against the Mets that the Nationals were "not going to let people twist in the wind" — and, true to his word, the house-cleaning began quickly.

Before the season began, no one was shy about predicting big things for Washington — not even the Nationals themselves, from Harper's "Where's my ring?" line in reference to the free-agent signing of pitcher Max Scherzer to Williams' clubhouse posting: "The road to the World Series begins today."

But the team fell apart in the second half of the season.

Williams' string of open-to-second-guessing bullpen choices didn't begin in 2015 — they were front-and-center during Washington's NL Division Series loss to the San Francisco Giants last season.

Williams also had to deal with a long list of injuries, including to half of the everyday lineup for long stretches: Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Denard Span. The ideal lineup was available for only two games all season.

The departure of Williams and his staff begins an offseason of significant change for a team that won division titles in 2012 and 2014 but could not win a playoff series.

At least 20 percent of the roster is pretty much guaranteed to be gone. Two homegrown building blocks, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond, are expected to leave via free agency, along with leadoff hitter Span and right-hander Doug Fister. Drew Storen is expected to be traded after losing the closer's job to Papelbon, then faltering badly.

"It's got a chance to be drastically different next year," Werth said, "so that's tough."