26-year-old Atlanta Braves' right-hander Kris Medlen, who faces the Washington Nationals tonight in Atlanta, held the Nats scoreless over 7.0 innings last time he faced them on August 22nd in the nation's capital. The 5-1 Braves' win started a five-game losing streak for the NL East's first-place Nationals. After the fifth straight loss, with the Nationals' lead in the division down to 4.0 games, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson called a team meeting. The Nats would win that night after what Johnson said was a light-hearted meeting rather than one in which he "chewed out" his team. Asked about the effect the closed-door conversation with his team had earlier this week in an appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies, Johnson told the hosts that he'd held the team meeting more for the sake of writers and broadcasters following the team than for his players:
"You know, Davey," one of the hosts started a long-ish meandering question, "You seem to be the perfect manager for this team, just came along right at the perfect time. You know a couple of weeks ago, when we had that little stretch there where the lead got cut to about [four] games, and we were here in the morning show, we had a panic alarm, and we were nervous. We said our fingers were hovering over it. We didn't know how to handle this. I think you had, correct me if I'm wrong, but maybe some sort of unofficial team meeting or something. And I'm sure you handled it in your own way. I don't know that it was necessarily some serious thing, but how concerned were you at that time and how much did your experience in having been there, done that, help you through that little period?
"Well, guys. First of all I’m a pretty good manager and I know that," Davey Johnson responded, "But let me tell you something, I had that meeting and you know why I had that meeting? Because I had it for you guys, so you guys would think I was doing something!"
"Well, what happened there then? What did you do, did you say anything?" the host asked.
"I said nothing," Davey Johnson said, "I told them ‘Hey guys we’re fine.' You know, those guys out there [the media], are scared. We keep kicking them out of the clubhouse and have a little peace in here. That was it."
Hmm? So about that fight with Mike Rizzo that just happened to take place within earshot of reporters with the door open? Kidding...
Kidding, of course, there's no reason to believe it was staged for fans, reporters or even Johnson's team's benefit. New York Post writer Ken Davidoff alluded to Davey Johnson's argument with the Nats' GM as he wrote about the Nationals' manager this morning in an article on his own candidates for AL and NL Manager of the year. Mr. Davidoff praised the work Johnson's done to help the team overcome significant injuries to catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Jayson Werth and last year's closer Drew Storen.
As he comes closer to leading a fourth MLB team to a postseason appearance after guiding the Mets, Orioles and Reds into October in previous stints on the bench with those organizations, Mr. Davidoff praised the way in which the 69-year-old skipper's players, "... always have embraced his us-against-them feistiness that also produces run-ins with superiors like Washington GM Mike Rizzo." The Nats' GM, after the argument with Johnson made headlines, made clear in the press that he and Johnson were then and always have been on the same page and had these "discussions" all the time. This time, however, Rizzo told the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell, "The only thing we did wrong was we didn’t close the door."
When the Nationals' General Manager, on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Mike Rizzo Show, was asked about Davey Johnson stumping for his players like Gio Gonzalez and Adam LaRoche for Cy Young and NL MVP consideration, Rizzo told the hosts that he loved it, but thought Johnson had omitted one name. "I think he's absolutely correct," Rizzo said, "Except for he left one guy out, Manager of the Year. And if he doesn't get Manager of the Year, I don't know what you have to do to get it." The feeling is mutual.
Davey Johnson talked to reporters during the last homestand about the job the Nats' GM has done this season and told reporters that in his opinion, "I think [Rizzo] is definitely the Executive of the Year," Davey Johnson said, "I think he should have been last year, the year before, I mean, the draft and the trades and things he's done. Awfully good baseball man. As I said before there's no question in my mind. We've had, and the proof is in the pudding, we had this year devastating injuries and the young players in the system have done an outstanding job in different roles."
"Tyler Moore," Johnson continued, "was a first baseman. He's played in the outfield. [Steve] Lombardozzi was a second baseman and a good one. He played left field predominantly. And at the same time playing a new position and still being productive. It's Mike Rizzo. It's the Mike Rizzo story."
All of which will mean very little to the two baseball men if they don't reach their ultimate goal this season. The Nationals start a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves tonight with an 8.5 game lead in the NL East. Manager of the Year. Executive of the Year, Cy Young, NL MVP... those are all post-season accolades. There is a lot of baseball left to play and that's where the focus is for the two men at the helm of the Washington Nationals franchise as they attempt to bring playoff baseball back to the nation's capital for the first time since 1933.