Washington Nationals' Manager Davey Johnson On The Nats' Bullpen; Playing The Long Game

Rob Carr

Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson talked to reporters on Saturday about how he's managing the Nats' bullpen early this season with an eye on having them healthy down the line when the Nationals hope to compete for the postseason again.

The answer is, "No." You are not the only one who is worried about the Nats' bullpen.

With Friday night's blown save and loss still fresh on everyone's minds, the discussion before Saturday afternoon's game against the Atlanta Braves focused mainly on what Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson thought of the early season struggles of his relief corps. After Friday night's game, the Nats' relievers had the highest ERA (6.34) in the NL, the fourth-highest FIP (4.63) and xFIP (4.17). The Nats' 70-year-old skipper was asked in the pregame press conference if allowing his starters to go deeper in game would help relieve some of the pressure his bullpen was feeling early this Spring. "With the quality we've got," Johnson said, "They are going to go deeper as the season goes on, but by and large I'm real pleased with what I've been getting out of the starters."

"My only consideration," the Nationals' manager continued, "is that our guys in the pen, their command hasn't been as good as the starters. Last year we really attacked hitters and this year we're throwing more pitches than normal. WIth the different make-up in the bullpen, with more guys that have closed, I haven't really [gotten] in a good rotation for the bullpen and that usually takes a couple weeks going into the season, and it's a combination of what the starters give you and the workload each guy has coming out of the pen."

While Johnson noted, as he's often explained, that he likes to use A and B bullpens, he told reporters this morning that it hasn't been easy early this season.

"[I] haven't really been able to do that," Johnson said, "I'm not as comfortable with how that's shaking out right now."

The Nats' manager, who's done this sixteen times before, knows that it's about the big picture when it comes to managing the team's relievers. "It's a whole long grind," Johnson told reporters on Saturday, "And what you do from, basically, the first two-thirds of the season, I mean, you've got to take care of them so they're not overworked and don't get tired arms coming into the crunch time."

The Nats' skipper tried to give Rafael Soriano a rest on Friday night only to have Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen struggle in the first game with Atlanta. "We had a lot of save situations in a row," Johnson explained, "And a lot of games where, you know, your closer, he wants to close. And I think [Soriano] was in six out of the first nine. So, they love it, but he had three days in a row and that's why, I told you guys the other day, I stayed off of Storen and it was set up for Clipp and Storen. It didn't work out, but it was set up. That was a day in advance. I didn't know he was going to say he couldn't go or could use a day off, but I felt it."

As for the relievers' early-season struggles, Johnson said, "I think a lot of that's mental. I mean sometimes you can make one bad pitch to one guy and he can hit a ball out of the ballpark. I was talking to Don Sutton earlier, his old pitching coach used to tell him there's more home runs coming after a walk than there [are] home runs coming after a home run, so... don't walk nobody. It's all kind of mental to me, where you get to trying to making the perfect pitch instead of going right after them and then making better pitches. That's what, since I've been here, that's what basically the bullpen has done. Maybe with expectations this year, maybe we're getting a little too fine. Trying to be too precise instead of, 'Hey here, let's go, hit it!'"

Then again, Johnson noted before Saturday's loss, "We've only played ten games."

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