At about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, shortly after the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse cleared out of players trying to get home and sleep fast before an 11 a.m. first pitch on Thursday, manager Davey Johnson sat and pondered his lineup.
He was at a loss. The Nationals scored 23 runs in the first two games this week games, and then went 18 innings where their only production was a solo home run from rookie second baseman Anthony Rendon. “I don’t have any answers,” Johnson said multiple times Wednesday night.
He had one thought come to mind, though, so he picked up his phone and dialed shortstop Ian Desmond — arguably the only Nationals hitter who has been consistently productive all season.
“Desi, I’m changing something,” Johnson told him. “I’m just going to flip you and (Jayson) Werth. Heck with it. Don’t change nothing, just keep hacking. Keep the fan on.”
Thursday morning, roughly 12 hours after their phone call had taken place and just 13 hours after the Nationals’ 4-1 loss to the Brewers that dropped them back to .500 again went final, Johnson tried to explain why he decided to bat Desmond second and Werth sixth.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Because I’m supposed to do something… I didn’t even explain it to Werth. He’ll figure it out. That I’m an idiot.”
Johnson, in a good mood despite the quick turnaround, early start time and his confounding offense, then reeled off a few old phrases for that same advice he gave Desmond.
“That was Frank Howard’s saying,” Johnson said of his “Keep the fan on” line. “He used to always say ‘Give it it’s head and let it buck.’ He’d yell that to a player. ‘Give it it’s head and let it buck! Turn the fan on!’ Keep swinging.”
Johnson paused. Then he laughed.
“I am going crazy,” he said.
Trying to get the Nationals’ offense to produce on a consistent basis and more along the lines of their potential has proven to be a Herculean task this season.
Almost across the board, Nationals hitters are underperforming. And their feast-or-famine production — which is most often famine — continues to halt their efforts to go on a sustained run of success.
Johnson joked that it was “putting him in the looney bin,” on Wednesday night, but in truth him trying to find the right lineup formula likely matters little in comparison to the Nationals’ players simply performing the way they’re capable more often.
“I still love this ballclub,” Johnson said, more seriously, on Thursday. “I still like the talent and I like the makeup. My Ouija board is just, I’m having a problem with it. It seems like when we hit, we all hit. And when we don’t, we don’t hit.
“Everything’s cyclical and we’ve been in that cycle for a long time. It’s time to come out of it and be more normal… I’ve thought about just throwing a bunch of names in a hat and picking them out, but I ain’t to that point yet.”
The Nationals will get a chance to put the previous two games of offensive futility behind them quickly with an early start on this July 4 holiday. They need a win to earn a series split with the woebegone Brewers.
“I’m hoping the fireworks start about 11:15 (a.m.),” Johnson joked.
General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was at Nationals Park to sing the National Anthem. That produced another quality story from Johnson Thursday morning, as he recanted visiting Dempsey’s house for dinner a few weeks ago with his wife, Susan.
“I was very impressed that he had a telephone with what seemed like a whole bunch of red buttons on it,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have my glasses on, but I think countries were on there. I was thinking, and my wife did ask about when the grandchildren were over, or children, did you have to worry about them picking up the phone?
“I know it would be a problem in my household if there were some red buttons on the phone. But I’m anxious to hear him sing.”
Here are the full lineups:
Denard Span CF
Ian Desmond SS
Bryce Harper LF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Anthony Rendon 2B
Wilson Ramos C
Taylor Jordan P
Norichika Aoki RF
Jean Segura SS
Carlos Gomez CF
Jonathan Lucroy C
Juan Francisco 3B
Sean Halton 1B
Logan Schafer LF
Jeff Bianchi 2B
Donovan Hand P