Late Tuesday night, with his baseball team the owner of a .500 record for the first time since April 9, 2012, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson sat in his office and pondered his frustration. His team was better than it’d shown in its first 20 games, and certainly better than it’d shown in its previous 11 — a stretch in which they’d won just three games.
He thought briefly about calling a team meeting, but he’s almost always loathe to do that. He pondered a few lineup changes, including subbing out struggling first baseman Adam LaRoche for Tyler Moore against a left-handed pitcher. He did that one, but considered others, too.
“I have a high boiling point,” he said Wednesday morning, before the Nationals matinee finale against the St. Louis Cardinals. “And it takes a while before I just vent. And usually when a manager does that, it’s more for himself than it is for any effect.
“I thought about (sitting other guys). And I will go to other guys more just so that the (main) guys don’t feel it’s all on them. It’s a long haul and you’ve got to have patience. Sometimes, that’s the hardest thing for a manager to have: patience.”
Johnson spoke to LaRoche about the day off, his veteran first baseman hitting .172 with 22 strikeouts in 58 at-bats on the young season, and admitted he’d have preferred not to do it Wednesday — one day after LaRoche struck out four times. But the message was simple: “It’s not all on you, pal.”
“Not heaping on you,” Johnson told him, “but we just gotta shake things up a little bit. A lot of times I’ll put all the shock troops in. But it’s not quite to that point.”
As for the Nationals’ issues, which at this point in the season are far more plentiful than most expected them to be, Johnson believes that they are mostly mental — the product of talented players wanting to do more than they need to in order to help the team. Pressing, essentially.
“To me, it’s always mental in this game,” Johnson said. “It’s your mental approach. Each guy just has to take care of No. 1. That’s the key. Just stay calm, do the things you’re capable of doing. Everything’s fine. But a club so motivated, so driven, everybody’s either trying to hit a home run or do something to light a fire. Sometimes that can work against you.”
So Johnson opted not to hold any kind of a meeting. He opted to make only minimal changes to his lineup (with Kurt Suzuki sitting for a routine day off after a night game in addition to the LaRoche switch) and he kept his faith in the talent that he’s seen in his clubhouse.
“All of them are so motivated and driven to be so good,” he said. “It’s kind of hard for me to berate them or get on them.”
Here are the full lineups as the Nationals take on the Cardinals looking to avoid losing four games in a row for the first time this season:
Denard Span CF
Jayson Werth RF
Bryce Harper LF
Tyler Moore 1B
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Jhonatan Solano C
Stephen Strasburg P
Matt Carpenter 3B
Allen Craig 1B
Matt Holliday LF
Carlos Beltran RF
Yadier Molina C
Daniel Descalso 2B
Shane Robinson CF
Pete Kozma SS
Jaime Garcia P