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Matt Williams returns to familiar terrority

Matt Williams acknowledging fans at Chase Field before Monday's game.
Matt Williams acknowledging fans at Chase Field before Monday's game.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Like Bob Melvin before him, Matt Williams took a wrong turn on his way to the clubhouse on Monday afternoon.

Melvin, as Diamondbacks manager from 2005 to 2008 and now managing the Oakland A’s, said when the A’s came to Chase Field two years for inter-league play, he took a few steps toward the Diamondbacks clubhouse.

By habit, by familiarity.

When Williams, now managing the Washington Nationals entered Chase Field, he, too, started toward the D-backs clubhouse but stopped and made his way to the visitors clubhouse.

It’s been only a few months since Williams left the friendly confines of the D-backs’ third base coaching box and advanced his career. Previously to being named as replacement for iconic Davey Johnson as Washington skipper last Nov. 1, Williams spent the last 17 years in the Arizona organization.

In the last few years, Williams made it known we coveted a manager’s job. As a finalist in the Rockies selection last year, he lost out to Walt Weiss but continued to put his name before general managers and club presidents.

With only one managerial position on his resume, Williams excelled at that assignment. Piloting the Salt River Rafters into the Arizona Fall League championship game in 2012, Williams began to lay the foundation for attention.

After last season, Williams became a finalist for the Washington job, and eventually beat out Randy Knorr, the Nats’ popular bench coach.

“The Diamondbacks were nothing but supportive,” Williams said before Monday night’s game with Arizona. “Everyone, from (manager) Kirk Gibson, (general manager) Kevin Towers, (CEO) Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick were all encouraging. This is familiar to me, I know this place and it’s comfortable.”

Amid great expectations, Williams steps into the Washington job.

In pre-season offerings, pundits proclaimed the Nationals to team to beat and some projections have the team parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in a victory march. Coming into the series opener with the D-backs Monday night, the Nats were in National League East third place and two and one-half games behind division-leading Atlanta.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Williams is handling players like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and a team considered by some as one of the best in baseball.

Earlier this season, Williams found his first test.

On April 20, Williams benched Harper for what the manager considered as lack of hustle. At the time, Harper was nursing tight left quadriceps and left the two previous games early. Still, Williams let Harper know he was disappointed and dished out the punishment.

“Bryce Harper will be one of the best players in the history of the game,” Williams said. “My job is make this team better and this is the action I took. Bryce may look down the road, say in 10, 15 years, remember this incident and say he was grateful for the experience.”

Still, Williams is in town for one purpose.

For all of his past allegiance, there is only one goal. That’s especially certain within the context that the Nats were swept by Oakland over the past weekend.

“I’m here to win three games,” Williams declared. “It’s nice to come home, sleep in my own bed, see the family but we have a job to do here.”