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Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson talked to reporters this afternoon in advance of Game 5 of the NLDS with the St. Louis Cardinals and touched on what he expects from Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper in the series finale with the Cards.
• Davey On Bryce: 19-year-old Nats' outfielder Bryce Harper ended his first season in the majors with a .330/.400/.643 September which earned him the NL's Rookie of the Month Award, but as he's battled shadows and illness in the first games of his first postseason run, the 2010 no.1 overall pick has struggled at the plate, collecting just one hit in 18 AB's in which he's K'd six times against the Cardinals. "The conditions in St. Louis were pretty tough," Davey Johnson told reporters this afternoon when asked to explain how the Cards have handled the rookie outfielder thus far, "It was hard. Pitch recognition was very tough there in the shadows. And with Bryce, when he doesn't do something spectacular, it's hard to believe, but he tries harder; and trying harder is not always better."
Harper's 0 for 8 in the first two games at home in Nationals Park, but the Nats' skipper said this afternoon that Harper's come through big before when the Nats have needed him. "He's done great," Johnson said, "I mean, the tension of a pennant race in September, he played like a veteran. But he still expects a lot of himself and even one ballgame, if it doesn't go where he does a lot of good things, he's going to just try harder. And he's going to expand the zone. But I look for him -- I mean, he's had four games now, so he should be calmed down, he should be all right."
Harper was 0 for 3 with 2 Ks against Wainwright in Game 1 of the NLDS in St. Louis. In the regular season, Harper was 3 for 8 with a double, walk and K against the Cards' 31-year-old, seven-year veteran.
• Davey Johnson on Gio Gonzalez: Davey Johnson joked last night after the Nationals won Game 4 to force decisive Game 5 in Nats Park tonight that Gio Gonzalez had been telling him all week that the Nationals were going to get to Game 5 of the NLDS. "'We're going five; we're going five. Skip, don't worry about it, we're going [to] Game 5,'" Gonzalez kept telling his manager and after the Nats' Game 4 win he went up to Johnson and told him he knew it would happen. "He said, 'What did I tell you, Skip? What did I tell you?'" Johnson told reporters last night.
Having gotten to Game 5, the Nationals now give the ball back to Gonzalez, who won 21 games in the regular season, and held the Nats close in Game One in the NLDS opener in spite of struggling and allowing seven walks in St. Louis. Asked this afternoon if he had given the Nationals' 27-year-old lefty any advice the Nationals' manager joked that he stuck with what he's done with Gonzalez all season. "I just [did] the same thing I do normally," Johnson said, smiling as he talked to reporters, "make sure that every time I see him I shake his hand and grin. And that's his preparation."
"I talked to him a little last night," Johnson said, recounting the incident in which Gonzalez had delivered the "I told you so," to his manager. "I don't do anything different in preparation for these games. The experience they go through, that's their learning curve. He might have tried to do a little too much over in St. Louis, ergo all the walks." On the year at home in his first season in the nation's capital, Gonzalez was (9-4) with 2.38 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 24 walks (2.38 BB/9) and 92 Ks (9.13 K/9) in 14 starts and 90.2 IP. The left-hander makes his first postseason start at home in D.C. tonight in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Asked about his confidence in Gonzalez going into the final game of the series, Johnson said he likes his chances with the lefty on the mound. "I like him going out there whether it's here or anywhere, against anybody. He's a competitor with great stuff. He's had a phenomenal year. He's going to be right there in the Cy Young voting. I can't think of a better scenario for a big game than having him on the rubber."
• Leftover Quote: Davey Johnson was asked this afternoon about all the divisional series going to Game 5 this October, which he said was a sign of parity in the league. "I think it's great for baseball what's going on," Johnson said, "Especially here and in Baltimore. I think that's great. This could be a nice historic day for this area."
• Here's Davey Johnson's Lineup For Game 5 vs the Cardinals: