Sunday afternoon, as the Nationals tried to digest a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees — a series in which Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse combined to go 4-for-26 — Morse wandered his way into Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s office.
His request: To be dropped in the Nationals lineup. His reason: “I’m killing the team.”
“No,” Johnson told him. “You’re not killing the team. You’re going to be fine. You’ll be carrying us in a minute. I’m not worried and I don’t want you worrying.”
Early Tuesday afternoon, Johnson relayed that same message to Zimmerman as Morse, Zimmerman, second baseman Danny Espinosa and others came out for early batting practice with Johnson and hitting coach Rick Eckstein.
The overriding message was the same for all of them: Relax.
“The situation we’re in, we’re playing pretty good baseball, we’re in first place, and you try to do more,” Johnson said. “And sometimes more is not better. Less is better. I think ‘Step back, relax.’ They’re still my three- and four-hole hitters today.”
The issues with Morse and Zimmerman are different to an extent. While both are getting over injuries, Morse is behind in a timing sense because his injury cost him almost all of spring training, as well as the first two months of the season. For Zimmerman, Johnson feels the adjustment now is more mental. To trust that his right shoulder is fully healthy so he doesn’t alter anything thinking about it.
“I knew he was trying to find something a little bit,” Johnson said of Zimmerman. “With that shoulder that’s bothered him, I’m sure he’s tried to compensate maybe in his approach and stuff. Basically (I tried to) break it down and be a little more simple. Simplify and be in a position where he feels comfortable more.
“Sometimes when you have something that has been bothering you, sometimes you almost try to make it hurt. But what you want to do is not do that. You want to be in a position where you’re more relaxed and you’re not testing it all the time. When you sometimes think about some things that have been bothering you a great deal, you lose sight of the fact that your main job is the opposing pitcher and timing him. I thought that’s where what the injury was causing him problems to do that.”
With Morse, Johnson said he feels he’s “close” and it’s just a matter of his bat catching up with major league pitching. But it falls under the same category. The more comfortable Morse is with the way he feels in the batter’s box, the easier it’ll be for him to return to form. Above all else, what Johnson wanted to get across was that he wouldn’t be making any moves like the one Morse suggested.
The Nationals need Zimmerman and Morse to hit the way they’re capable. For Johnson, continuing to instill confidence in them is part of the way to get there.
“It’s my job to be concerned,” Johnson said. “But I know the ability that’s there, and I’m not worried about it. It’s different with a younger player trying to do too much, but basically it’s the same thing. You try to overcompensate or feel like you’re back and you haven’t been here in a while and you’ve got to hit two home runs the first game or something like that. Just see the ball, try to meet it and don’t try to kill it.
“You need to be on time. You can’t be thinking about tomatoes.”