"We could have won the first two games," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Washington Nationals were swept in their three-game weekend set with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a rough start to an eleven-game homestand.
On Friday night, the Nats' hitters connected for nine hits, but just two runs in a 3-2 loss. Saturday night they lost 3-1 in extra innings. This afternoon it was over early as the Dodgers jumped all over Jordan Zimmermann and knocked the Nationals' All-Star starter out after two innings, but Johnson looked back and said if a few things had gone their way it might have been different.
"Just one hit here [or] there," the Nats' 70-year-old skipper lamented.
In spite of Sunday's loss and the sweep, the Nationals' manager restated his belief that it's not over for the 48-50 third place team just yet. "Basically I like the way the guys now are throwing the ball in the bullpen," Johnson said, "I like the way the starters have been pitching. And I talked to the guys. There's a good attitude. I'm the one that's frustrated. I'm the one that has trouble sleeping. But I feel like we're going to be fine."
The Dodgers came into D.C. on a tremendous run. The sweep of the three-game set gave Los Angeles 20 wins in their last 25 games and nine of their last 10. "They threw some pretty good pitchers at us," Johnson said, "[Clayton Kershaw] was using all of his weapons today." LA's 25-year-old left-hander actually saw his ERA creep up a bit to 2.01 on the year from 1.98 before today's game as a result of Jayson Werth's two home runs, but those were the Nationals' only two hits off Kershaw in 7.0 innings of work in Nats Park.
"I got confidence in them," Johnson said, referring to his hitters, "so, I don't want to keep talking about the offense. It's all we seem to talk about. That and the injuries." The continuing struggles on offense cost the Nationals again this weekend, however, and in spite of seven innings by Stephen Strasburg on Friday in which he gave up just two runs and six scoreless innings of work from Gio Gonzalez on Saturday, the offense couldn't come through when they had the Dodgers' pitchers in trouble.
Entering play today, the Nationals' hitters had the third-lowest team average in the NL (.241), the second-lowest on-base percentage (.301) and they were 12th of 15 teams in slugging percentage (.383). The Nats' skipper wasn't sure how to explain it. "I don't see any lack of concentration," Johnson said. "I look at each individual and see their work habits and the way they go about their business and it's awfully professional. I have no complaints.
"It's just the frustrating part that it's not all coming together in wins. Nobody hates losing worse than me. Those guys feel it in there too, so maybe it's pressing. I don't know, but I think the confidence is there."
So what's the problem? The talent is there. The confidence is there. "There's all kinds of a multitude of things when you don't play up to your capabilities," Johnson explained, "I mean, the bench wasn't productive. It was young. It's awfully hard to do that job. The bullpen was a little bent out. [Dan] Haren had some problems early. We had some injuries. I don't point to just one thing."
"I'm not happy when we lose and neither are they," Johnson assured reporters.
The veteran of seventeen seasons on the bench, who moved from an advisory role in the organization back to managing when Jim Riggleman resigned in 2011 was asked after today's loss if he would recommend a big deal if Nats' GM Mike Rizzo brought something to him that they believed could turn things around?
"Just depends on if you're just trying to just get a quick fix for two months," the Nationals' manager said. "The minor league system, I said it was going to take all of this year to get to where we had a lot of first division players knocking on the door up here and that's true, that's where we're at.
"To do something major and block the progress of some young talent, I mean, with the talent up here we've blocked the progress of say a Tyler Moore and a [Steve] Lombardozzi. And you want more of that, in the pitching areas and in the outfield that's the areas that we're weak. So I think, sometimes, handling the pressure you've got to step back a little bit and take what's thrown at you and learn to deal with it. I thought with what we did last year getting into the playoffs and getting the early exit. I thought that was a good experience for us to take it a step further. But it's not easy. I mean, it's very competitive up here. Sometimes though, it's tough to have patience."
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