With the off days scheduled at the start of the season, it's hard to keep the bench guys sharp, and as Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson noted this afternoon, it's even harder with a team full of starters who never want to come out of the lineup. The Nats' 70-year-old skipper said he spoke to his bench players about how they'll be used today. Johnson said veteran bench bat Chad Tracy plays an important role in keeping his younger teammates in the games and ready for their opportunities. "Tracy's really good in talking to the guys," Johnson said, "and having them be prepared late in the ballgame to pinch hit and watching the pitcher, watching what's going on rather than -- in the first year I got here, a lot of the guys would hang around the cage and swing all the time, I had to go and find them."
"So, they're much more in tune with that role," the Nationals' manager explained. "The tough thing," however, Johnson continued, "Is when you have a couple of young players on the bench in Tyler Moore and [Steve Lombardozzi]. That's the tough thing because they're used to playing every day. Of course, Lombo last year got to play a whole lot and they both got to play a whole lot in the Spring, so they're where they need to be, but with a lot of off days early, and especially with the make-up of this ballclub, nobody wants to come out of the lineup. So, I'll be trying to do my best to get them in with double switches and stuff like that."
"Of course," Johnson added, "I usually get the 'dagger eye' when I double switch one of them, especially [Danny] Espinosa."
"Early on it's tough, especially with the off days. It's going to be tough all year. Hopefully we stay healthy, but, I've got a lot of guys that don't want to come out of the lineup and I don't see a whole lot of reasons to take them out of the lineup."
• Backstop Plan: The Nats' plan with what they've described as their two no.1 catchers, Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki, is to have both backstops alternate early on. "That's a tribute to each, because I like them both," Johnson said, "They're both great catchers. Both handle the staff very well. Both bring a lot to the table. Especially with [Ramos], he's had a great Spring coming back from that injury, [and] this also gives him a little more time to regroup between starts."
Johnson also explained today that he won't necessarily match up any one starter with a particular catcher, and the numbers will obviously result in different combinations. "I explained to them," Johnson said, "... because there's both you guys, two goes into five, so you're going to keep changing and I'm comfortable with that. But the way it worked out, I like Suzuki catching [Gio Gonzalez's] first start. That's fine. And also, like I said, it was kind of a present to [Ramos] starting the Opener, because he worked so hard to come back and I know it meant a lot to him. It meant a lot to all of us. And that will get more difficult as the season goes on too."
• Tonight's Starter: Speaking of Gio Gonzalez, tonight's starter, Johnson was asked if the 27-year-old left-hander can take it to another level this season after his 21-win, All-Star-worthy first season in the National League in 2012. "I hope we don't have as many games where he has to worry about me staying with him," Johnson said with a laugh, "I mean, there were some times last year that he'd have a rough inning and he'd feel like I was looking to hook him and I didn't. But I think, new league, new team, he knows the hitters a little bit better, he knows where he wants to locate the ball. He was awfully good last year, but there's still some room there to improve on that."
"He was so good last year," Johnson explained, "I can count on my fingers the number of times where he had a little rough outing where he might have only [gone] five or six."
• Green Light For Denard: "He's got pretty much a green light," Davey Johnson told reporters this afternoon when asked about how he'd use the Nationals' new center fielder and base-stealing threat, Denard Span, on the basepaths. "We're not going to be forcing the issue on running," Johnson said, "Because we've got too good an offensive club. We're real good -- Tony [Tarasco] and Trent [Jewett] -- we've got two or three clocks on the bench on pitcher's release times, and if a guy's under 1.3 it's hard to run on him. So we're not just going to run to run, we're going to pick pitches to run on, stuff like that, we don't want to give up outs, but he's got the green light."
• A/B Pen: After seven innings of Stephen Strasburg on Monday, Davey Johnson turned to Tyler Clippard in the eighth and then Rafael Soriano in the ninth to close out the team's first win, but as he explained this afternoon, he still likes having the A and B bullpen's he's talked about and used as a manager in the past. "I had a little conversation with the bullpen," Johnson said, "And I basically said, we've got, actually got four guys have closed here; [Clippard] had a really great Spring, but probably, depending on the workload of each guy, [Drew] Storen is probably my backup closer with Clipp right there. But, basically, I like to divide the pen into A/B pens."
"Like today," Johnson explained, "I'll lean more... to set-up with Storen. Even though with the off day, but normally I like to let a guy work and have off the next day and work, but all of them are used to going back-to-back, so I have a lot of good choices."
As for what he'll do if he has to use his closer for multiple games in a row, the Nats' skipper said he's still getting to know new closer Rafael Soriano. "I think, you know, every closer is different and I don't have a really good feel for him yet, but it's a nice problem to have when you need a closer three, four, five days in a row." Johnson said he was sure that Soriano would let him know if he was getting overworked. "That's a really good problem to have though," the manager joked, "Hope that happens a lot, but I've got a lot of choices for guys wanting to step in."