A discussion about the relative merits of each of his pitchers' abilities with the bat led to the inevitable question being asked of the Washington Nationals' 70-year-old manager Davey Johnson last week. "Would you be for or again-- ..."
"Against," Johnson responded, interrupting a reporter before they even had a chance to finish asking the question.
"Against," the Nats' skipper repeated.
The question was one that will come up often this season with the introduction of nearly-every day Interleague play. The defending NL East Champion Nats and Chicago White Sox start a three-game Interleague series in in the nation's capital on Tuesday night. Since it's a National League park, the games will be played under NL rules, which means no designated hitters, and a team designed to have an extra bat in the lineup will have to make do without one.
So the question the reporter was asking Johnson was simple, "Would you be for or against bringing the DH to the National League?"
"Against. Against," Johnson said, before explaining his position. "I just think there's more strategy in the [NL] game. Baseball is a game of strategy. I mean, with the pitcher in the lineup it's also self-policing. I like the offense you can throw out there with the DH, but I think it's more challenging to manage [without the DH]. A pitcher's pitching a good ballgame, and a couple of runners get on, low pitch count, and you've got to go ahead and try to get back in the ballgame.
"In the American League, it's real easy to read the pitcher and when he's done, he's done it doesn't affect the lineup. I was reading [an] article today about wanting to go-- the consensus is that everybody would go to the DH, more so than everybody going back. I think it's terrible that there [are] two standards and it's been that way a long time, but I'd like to see it the same."
Considering the possibility of either eliminating the DH completely or adding it to the National League, Johnson said, "I doubt I'll see it in my lifetime."
The decision to relocate the Houston Astros to the AL West, meaning there are finally 15 teams in each league, resulted in the schedule changing to include Interleague play throughout the season rather than during specific periods as it was in years past. Asked if it was "weird" to be starting Interleague play so early in the season, Johnson had a deadpan response.
"Yeah, that is weird."
That was it, a moment's pause after the response drew laughter from reporters, then the manager explained a bit further. "But nothing amazes me any more," Johnson said, "even with the schedule we had in the Spring. I have no control over that, I've got the thing up on my wall and I know who we've got this weekend, and I know who we've got coming home, so I've been watching the tube, doing my scouting and we get plenty of reports, but I like to see what we're up against."
"I would rather just group it up in there and get it over with," Johnson told reporters, rather than have an Interleague series each month. As for how he plans to handle his lineup in American League parks when he'll have to add a DH, the Nats' skipper said, "It's not really going to matter to me, because I'm probably going to hit my DH ninth. I like the way our lineup goes and I'd probably just hit my DH ninth. So, we've got some pretty good candidates to DH, so ..."
"Would you even hit Tyler Moore ninth? Maybe DH Tyler Moore" Johnson was asked, "[Roger] Bernadina might work there... "
"Yeah, it depends on lefty/right, [Chad] Tracy, Tyler Moore," the manager said, "I wouldn't want to mess up the lineup. I've got a pretty set lineup that I like."
What concerns Johnson about the new schedule is the competitive balance. "It's-- and I don't know if there's a balance," he admitted, "I haven't looked at the schedule. The thing I'm more concerned about is, 'Are we going to the American League ballpark the same amount they're coming here? There's an unbalance... I mean, we went to Boston, when was it, last year, and Toronto, and they have the DH built in, Big Papi [David Ortiz] in Boston. Would have been nice to have him come here and have him run around first base or not in the game."
"But that, I mean, that also has an unbalance to it. The clubs that have the great DH that can't do anything but DH and you've got to go to their place."
"The White Sox will have to decide with Adam Dunn next week," a reporter noted.
"I'm sure they'll put him at first, probably," Johnson said, "And then where could [Paul] Konerko go?"
Actually, according to reports out of Chicago this weekend, the White Sox may consider having Dunn play left field when he returns to the nation's capital where he played two seasons with the Nationals in 2009-10."'It's possible, we'll just see how it goes,'" Chicago's manager Robin Ventura told reporters including the Chicago Tribune's Dave van Dyck, "[Dunn will] probably have one of (the games) at some point.'"
Ventura, 45, spent time in both leagues during his 16-year MLB career and he's in his second year on the bench in the American League after leading the White Sox to an 85-77 record and a second place finish in the AL Central in 2012. But as he explained to reporters this weekend, as quoted in an article by the Northwest Herald's Meghan Montemurro, he'd prefer the NL remain DH-free in the future.
Ventura acknowledges in the article that having the DH in the AL allows some players to prolong their careers, but he also offered the flip-side of the benefits not having it in the NL provides:
"'The DH has kept a lot of players that couldn’t play defense that are good hitters still, they get to extend their careers,' Ventura said. 'I think there’s a part of the National League game, having played in the National League, it’s fun. It creates a different thing for bench players that wouldn’t happen in the American League.'"
Sox' starter Jake Peavy, who will oppose Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday night and pick up a bat for the first time this year said in the article that he was looking forward to the opportunity:
"'I love that style of game in the National League,' Peavy said. 'I love the pitcher being an integral part of the game. You’re being an athlete and having a chance to impact the game. If you practice being better than the other guy, it’s one advantage you have over the other starting pitcher.'"
Will the NL inevitably adopt the DH? The two managers who'll match up this week in the nation's capital clearly hope not. Are the White Sox really going to play Adam Dunn in left field? He played a few games out there last year. Can't wait to see that. White Sox at Nationals, tomorrow night in D.C.
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