"He's done that before," Davey Johnson said after watching Washington Nationals' 2012 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez throw 99 pitches in 5.0 IP in which he gave up four hits, two walks and one earned run on a bases loaded balk. "But not quite that bad," the 70-year-old skipper continued after managing the team to its fifth win of the season, 8-7 over the Chicago White Sox, "I guess he was just missing. I mean, just off the plate, but 100 pitches in five is not usual Gio. But, he had good stuff, just didn't throw it over."
Gonzalez had a long discussion with Pitching Coach Steve McCatty after being lifted from his second start of the year, but according to the Nats' manager, it wasn't a tough decision to bring Craig Stammen on in the sixth. "I wasn't going to go second time out, 120 pitches," the Nats' manager said, "And I didn't want to have to hook him if he got somebody on and the pitch count got up there. It's just not that time of year for me to push him. I know he wanted to continue, but he wasn't continuing for me. Simple as that."
Gonzalez left the game with a 2-1 lead courtesy of Ian Desmond's home run in the bottom of the fifth, but a sac fly by Paul Konerko in the top of the sixth meant it would be no decision for the Nationals' lefty in start no.2. After tonight's outing Gonzalez has a 0.82 ERA, a 1.94 FIP, four walks (3.27 BB/9) and 12 Ks (9.82 K/9) over his first 11.0 IP.
Davey Johnson was happy to see Adam LaRoche come alive at the plate with two home runs in four at bats tonight, but the Nats' manager was never worried as his 33-year-old first baseman got off to an 0 for 15 start this season and sat for two games with a stiff lower back. "Well you guys were all worried about him," Johnson told reporters, "I wasn't worried about him. He's been swinging the bat good. He's hit some balls hard that probably could have gone out, and the wind was blowing in, I like the way he was swinging."
Johnson did say the same after the first series in D.C. against the Marlins when asked when he got worried about an 0 for-the season start? "I mean, I like the way he's been swinging the bat," Johnson said, "I think he feels good about himself. He's seeing the ball good. I mean, he's hitting some balls hard. He's actually hitting some balls harder then [Ian Desmond] and [Danny] Espinosa and they had great Springs." Johnson predicted a shift to Great American Ballpark might get LaRoche started, but it wasn't until he came back to D.C. that he finally connected. Twice. With the second home run in the eighth the difference in what ended up a one-run game when Rafael Soriano surrendered a two-run blast in the top of the ninth before earning the save.
"He's a smart hitter," Johnson said of LaRoche, the player he actively recruited after the 2012 Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner became a free agent this winter, "He's awful strong, and whether he gets going now or a little bit later, I mean, he's so valuable on the ballclub playing first base, so I wouldn't worry about it. He's a veteran. He's had slow starts. He's actually known for his slow starts. I think last year was the first time he came out of the chute. Maybe I used him too much in the Spring. I don't know. Last year I think he only had a week of Spring Training then he really played well from the get-go."
LaRoche developed the reputation as a slow starter early in his career with some fairly rough starts, but excluding his injury-plagued first year in D.C. in 2011, he's actually gotten off to decent-to-good starts since 2009 with a .269/.352/.564 line, eight doubles and five home runs in 20 games in March/April of that year for Pittsburgh, a .296/.390/.563, seven double, four home run start in 2010 over 20 games with Arizona and then a .329/.415/.549 line last season in Washington in which he hit six doubles and four home runs in his first 22 games. Overall, in his career he does still have a .219/.312/.397 line in the first month of the season, however.
Point: Davey Johnson.
Johnson was also happy with Jayson Werth, who hit another big home run tonight in the bottom of the sixth. Werth's third of the year sailed out to left to give the Nationals a 4-2 lead. Johnson said though the right fielder still sometimes doesn't "feel just right" at the plate he's liked what he's seen from the no.2 hitter so far. "But by and large, most of the Spring he was feeling really good," Johnson said tonight. "I liked his approach. Sometimes you go through a game here and there early, but obviously his wrist is not bothering him, because he's crushed some balls and that's a good sign. But I like his approach. He's a tough out."
"The way we're set up," Johnson explained, breaking down his own lineup, "My two and four-hole hitters, right-hand hitters, need to be spanking the ball. We need to get [Ryan Zimmerman] going. Because every time they bring in a left-hander and I've got a hot hitter that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, they're not going to want to leave that left-hander in there and so, I mean, that's the key to our lineup."
"As far as moving [Werth] to more middle of the lineup," Johnson said, as he'd once discussed doing when Werth's wrist was 100%, "I like the middle of our lineup. I like him in the two-hole. He's been more aggressive in the two-hole this year, because I think he feels stronger. Because unless the scoreboard is wrong, he hasn't walked yet. [ed. note - "He hasn't."] I mean, what he was hitting [.500] was what he was on-base percentaging [.500]. I thought he'd walked. But that just tells me he was swinging the bat more aggressively." [ed. note - "He has been. Tape measure shots.]
• Werth Also Collected RBI no.500 of his career:
With his 2-run home run in the 6th inning, Jayson Werth eclipsed the 500 RBI mark for his career. Nationals lead 6-2 heading to the 7th.— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) April 10, 2013
Asked to clarify his comments that the lack of walks was a good sign for Werth, Johnson said, "Yeah. Because his wrist is feeling good and he's being more aggressive and I like that. He'll get his walks, I'm not worried about that. And he's got good hand-eye coordination, he puts the bat on the ball -- I don't care what you throw him -- breaking ball or whatever. He's going to put it in play."
The Nationals' manager said he hadn't talked to his bearded right fielder or urged the 33-year-old, 11-year-veteran to be more aggressive, Werth's doing it on his own.
"He's on his own path,"Johnson laughed.