Nationals Manager Davey Johnson called a team meeting before batting practice on Wednesday in Miami, on the heels of a five-game losing streak, the longest of the season. Not one for formal group meetings, Johnson strolled into the clubhouse in the afternoon and told the players he wanted to gather them together. And the tone he struck in the brief get-together was an encouraging one, not of frustration over the recent skid.
“Telling them I’m very pleased with the effort and the production,” he said. “And you guys win games, and when we lose it’s harder on the coaches and the manager. We don’t sleep as well. But if they start winning a few games they start making it easier on this old guy. And we all got a good laugh out of everything. It was a nice, fun meeting.”
Despite holding the best record in the major leagues for the past few weeks and maintaining a stranglehold on first place in the NL East, the Nationals have lost five games, four of them against teams with losing records, and played uneven baseball with a handful of mental mistakes. Even veteran players, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, stumbled with base-running miscues. The offense has scored only six runs over the past five games.
Johnson concluded following Tuesday’s 9-0 loss to the Miami Marlins, in which Stephen Strasburg was battered for seven runs and nine hits, that he wanted to talk to the team. He said he didn’t prepare anything to say.
Even though he is adverse to team meetings, Johnson picks strategically when to call them. (“I don’t hold a lot of them, as you know,” he told reporters. “That way you guys maybe think I’m doing my job.”) He called one on May 10 while in Pittsburgh following an anemic offensive showing and three-game losing streak. Wednesday was only the second time this year Johnson has called a team meeting.
When asked why he asked for one, Johnson deflected with humor, as he often does, a managerial tactic he uses: “I think I was watching all those speeches last night on the Republican Convention and I said maybe I oughta give a speech.’”
Johnson reiterated his confidence in his team. Some in the meeting said it was a light-hearted gathering. Johnson normally deals with players in informal, individual conversations. But, acting perhaps like a psychologist, Johnson wanted to tell his players all at once that he supported them and liked the effort he saw at a moment when they struggled.
“This club didn’t need a chew-out meeting,” he said. “I just needed to let them know I was on their side and I appreciate how good they’ve been going and all the effort I’ve been getting. Sometimes it’s nice for them to hear it from me as a group.”
As far as the losing streak, Johnson again noted that he wasn’t concerned. Only seven times this season have the Nationals had losing streaks of at least three games. The current one – while frustrating for some, evidenced by a dustup between Johnson and General Manager Mike Rizzo – was normal in a season, Johnson said.
“I think losing streaks just make winning sweeter,” he said. “Sometimes when things have been going good for quite a length of time, you’re going to have ups and downs, I don’t care who you are. . . . It’s just good to step back. It’s a game we play and it’s about momentum and it’s a grind. But I’ve said this before, this club has outstanding makeup. And if anything they work too hard. And it’s not a club, a youth club, that doesn’t need pushing. If anything, it just needs a settling effect, everything is fine. Just because you go through a little rough stretch doesn’t mean you gotta now hit a thousand balls before the game.”
Johnson, of course, sprinkled humor throughout his explanation of the team meeting with a veteran’s touch.
“I didn’t even know what I was going to say until I got in there,” he said. “But it’s nice to have just a fun meeting. Short, sweet, to the point. I probably held their attention span because it was only seven minutes. If you go over 10, you might lose ’em.”
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