PHOENIX — The Washington Nationals will close their 2013 campaign here at Chase Field on Sunday afternoon against the Diamondbacks. Who will start for them that day, however, remains a question mark.
Gio Gonzalez could make the start on the usual five days rest, or Tanner Roark could go in his usual spot as the team’s No. 5 starter down the stretch.
Gonzalez is just 4 1/3 innings away from 200 on the season, and only eight strikeouts away from 200 as well. So there is personal motivation for him to start, to try and achieve those milestones before the season is out.
But manager Davey Johnson provided a glimpse, albeit a strange one, into why the decision has become so complex: he really wants to finish his managerial career 300 games over .500. Johnson will enter Friday night’s game with a 1,370-1,070 record, so the Nationals would need to win the series for him to finish above that mark.
He explained this to his team earlier in the week in St. Louis.
“‘Like guys have 20 stolen bases, 20 homers; 300 sounds like a good number,’” Johnson said he told the team. “‘Maybe we could get that.’ So I said that to some of the guys: ‘Can we win a couple games?’ And Gio knows it. So I think if we win a couple, he’ll (be done for the season). If we go 1-1, he’ll take the ball.
“So it’s kind of complicated and stupid.”
It was, at the very least, one of the strangest explanation the manager has ever given when it comes to personnel moves. While it is likely that Gonzalez could make the start, and at least pitch five innings, Johnson reversed his course a bit after that and said Roark “probably but not officially” will pitch.
“But it doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “It was just something I threw out there. Motivational speech. ‘Do something for me, fellas!’
“It’s that time of year when you accommodate everybody. I try to accommodate everybody all year and this is a little accommodation for me. I don’t care. Really, I don’t care. But I put my two cents in.”
Whatever his record is — and it can be no worse than 297 games over .500 — this will be Johnson’s final series in the dugout for the Nationals. It has been an emotional week for Johnson as the reality of that has finally set in, with a video tribute to him at home last weekend and, then, with the Nationals’ elimination from the playoffs earlier this week.
Johnson even had a friend of his from Tokyo fly to Arizona to be here for Johnson’s final series as the Nationals’ manager.
“It’s just the finality of it all kind of sunk in,” he said Friday. “It sunk in when I saw a video of me playing in Japan. I enjoy every day for what it brings. It’s time to hang it up, see my grandkids, take on another challenge. Who knows?”