MIAMI — The day after the Washington Nationals losing streak hit five, matching a season-long, the words were there on the top of the clubhouse white board in red ink: Team meeting, 4:30.
Amidst the usual pre-game clubhouse scene there was no angst, no disconsolate faces. Most players shrugged their shoulders when asked about the meeting knowing only that it was not player-driven. Many even felt it was a good idea — good to get the team together every now and then and get everyone on the same page.
The clubhouse doors were closed promptly at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, and seven minutes later they re-opened. Manager Davey Johnson’s message short but sweet.
“It was a fun meeting,” Johnson said. “I wanted to tell them ‘I’m very pleased with the effort and the production. You guys win games and when you lose, it’s harder on the coaches and the manager. We don’t sleep as well. So could we start winning a few games, make it easier on this old guy?’ We all got a good laugh out of everything.”
Johnson is not a huge proponent of team meetings. He holds one on the first day of workouts in spring training and then rarely calls them as the season goes on, choosing to pick his spots as necessary. The last team meeting the Nationals held came in Pittsburgh on May 10 with the Nationals’ having lost three in a row and their offense sputtering without several key sluggers.
The Nationals are 59-39 since that meeting and are hitting .262 (.031 points higher than they were at that point) with a .319 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage.
The Nationals’ five-game losing streak entering Wednesday’s finale with the Miami Marlins hasn’t kept Johnson awake the same way their struggles before his previous meeting had. But the offense has gone dormant lately, averaging just 1.2 runs per game over their streak, and that partly prompted the reminders he gave Wednesday.
“Sometimes you have ‘Chew-out’ meetings,” Johnson said. “This club didn’t need a chew out meeting. I just wanted to let them know that I was on their side and I appreciate the effort I’ve been getting. Sometimes it’s nice for them to hear it from me as a group.”
Johnson joked that he was inspired watching the speeches at the Republican National Convention late Tuesday night, thinking to himself ‘maybe I ought to give a speech?’ and also said part of his reasoning was so “that way (the media) will maybe think I’m doing my job.”
Several players said the meeting went well and appreciated its brevity. An underlying point one got out of just seeing that one had been called was that panic isn’t necessary. If the team had been told in spring training they’d be four games up in the National League East during the last week in August, they’d be thrilled with it and most of the public would be, too.
“I think losing streaks just make winning sweeter,” Johnson said, noting even the World Series champion 1927 Yankees went through rough patches — which they did, losing four straight in late August themselves.
“You’re going to have ups and downs. I don’t care who you are. It’s just good to step back. It’s about momentum and it’s a grind. I’ve said this before: this club has got outstanding makeup and if anything they work too hard. It doesn’t need pushing. If anything it needs some time to settle and remember everything’s fine. Just because we’re in a little rough stretch it doesn’t mean you’ve got to now hit 1,000 balls before the game, that kind of thing.”