Davey Johnson shuffles lineup as Nats search for offense

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As the clubhouse cleared out and rush hour traffic hit the District with its full force Wednesday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson and shortstop Ian Desmond engaged in a lengthy discussion.

They talked about hitting, and the game. They talked longer than either expected.

Maybe, Johnson thought as he pondered lineup changes following his team’s fourth straight loss, they’d talk long enough that the traffic would dissipate.

“When I went out at 7 o’clock it was bumper to bumper,” Johnson quipped Thursday. “When does the traffic ease up around here, 7:30 p.m.? I need a time. Because I got on I-395 and we were just going 5 feet at a time. We had a lot more time than I thought.”

When Johnson arrived at the ballpark early Thursday afternoon, he expected to find Adam LaRoche out taking early batting practice. What he found instead was nine of his players hitting early, including LaRoche. And a few others milling about.

Given that his team had scored a total of four runs in its past 36 innings, Johnson figured that was a positive.

“That’s a first for me,” he said of seeing so many players out early that they needed to be split into two groups. “So that’s a good sign.”

Whether it’s the early work or a lineup that looks slightly different — with Steve Lombardozzi starting at third base and hitting second, and Jayson Werth dropped into the cleanup spot — Johnson was hopeful the slight changes could help the Nationals click. He’d prefer that happens before he has to make wholesale changes.

To this point, they’ve struggled to get it going.

“I’m just waiting for all of [us] to feel more relaxed, and for guys to get more quality at-bats,” Johnson said. “Rather than throwing the whole bench in the lineup and doing a whole bunch of different things, which I call overmanaging, just let them go play.

“They’re all so motivated anyway, it’s almost like I don’t want to push them. If they could try harder, which I don’t think they can, it’s more of a ‘less is better than more’ push for me.”

The lineup changes Johnson made weren’t drastic. They simply placed Lombardozzi, one of the Nationals’ highest on-base percentage players, near the top spot in the order, and added Werth, another right-handed bat, to the middle of an order that has been missing third baseman Ryan Zimmerman since last week.

But Johnson, and general manager Mike Rizzo, cautioned there was nothing more to the changes than simply a one-day difference.

“I am not concerned about [the team’s funk],” Rizzo said. “There’s nothing to look into it other than we’re shaking it up.”

NOTES: Catcher Wilson Ramos, who is rehabbing a pulled left hamstring, is expected to begin an assignment with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday when they visit the Orioles’ affiliate in Bowie. Ramos ran the bases and took early batting practice Thursday, and he is expected to catch in the minor league game Friday. Should he come through that fine, it is likely he is activated from the disabled list Monday, the first day he’s eligible. …

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