By Tom Schad
The buzz word in the Nationals’ clubhouse on Friday was confidence. Manager Davey Johnson had confidence in Matt Stairs to drive in the game-winning run, while the team had confidence in Johnson to help it weather the storm of its skid in Anaheim.
But before the game, Johnson showed shades of different feelings as he talked about making changes to the roster. With the trade deadline now less than a month away, the new skipper talked at length about the Nats’ needs.
“There are still some question marks in the lineup and I’m not really comfortable with the way everything fits together right now,” he admitted. “I love the ball club and I love the talent level, but I’m not really comfortable with all the pieces and the way they fit together.”
His number one concern is the bullpen – both its shortage of left-handed options and lack of organizational structure. The Nationals have a good closer in Drew Storen and a few quality relievers, but Johnson is worried that his staff lacks ordered roles. He is still looking to establish a setup man as well as “long guys.”
The 68-year-old also wishes that he had more southpaws available in the bullpen and possibly a sixth starter in case of an injury early in the game. In his mind, matchups are key.
“I don’t want him [the opposing manager] to have control of the matchups – I want to control the matchups,” Johnson said. “I manage against the opposing manager late in the ball game – my bench against his bullpen or his bench against my bullpen. I like to be able to make his choices very difficult.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Johnson said he’s looking for a little more power off the bench. He wants to strike fear in opposing managers by having, in his words, “a guy sitting next to me with a big hairy chest.” This also draws back to his philosophy of matchup managing.
Washington’s team needs are nothing new, but what’s interesting is the way that Johnson went about discussing them. He was frank and clear about what he wants to see happen, which showed his decisiveness. Yet at the same time, he put chinks in his own armor by downplaying the talent of the current roster.
“There are some things that I would like, [but] that doesn’t mean I don’t have all the confidence in the world in the guys on my team; I do,” he defended. “The strengths that they bring – speed, defense – that’s great if we’re ahead. But if we’re not always ahead, I want to get ahead.”
Johnson was clearly straddling a fence, trying to support his current players while subtly declaring that he wants some moves to be made.
“It’s wonderful being around a .500 club, but that doesn’t win championships,” he said. “My job is to look at all the things, make decisions and establish young players in the lineup to where at the end of the year.”