Davey Johnson’s difficult balance of finding playing time for the bench

For the first time this season, Tyler Moore looked at the lineup card in the clubhouse and saw his name written with marker in the starting nine. He was surprised because, when first baseman Adam LaRoche is playing everyday, he knows he will rarely see the field. But Manager Davey Johnson had assessed the situation, and coupled with LaRoche’s once-tight back and likely also because the Marlins were starting a left-hander, decided that the little-used Moore should get some at-bats.

Johnson gave LaRoche a heads up that he wanted to sit him for one game via text message earlier on Monday, and the two talk about it at the stadium. Johnson made his case and LaRoche accepted the decision, although perhaps not completely happy to ride the bench. (Who would?) And because of a lingering wrist injury for Danny Espinosa, Johnson was also able to start a lesser-used bench player, Steve Lombardozzi, at second base against the Marlins and go 2 for 5 with an RBI.

The lowly Marlins gave Johnson a chance to attack one of the most difficult tasks he will face all year: finding enough playing time for all 25 players, especially the young bench players who could use the at-bats to continue developing. Johnson’s move, although early only 13 games into the season, paid off with Moore driving in three runs in the 10-3 win.

“He’s good at doing that stuff,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “Obviously, puts [Moore] in there against a lefty and gives Adam the day off. He gives us three or four of those a year. It gives them a chance to stay sharp and get some at-bats and gives us a chance to completely have a day to sorta relax mentally more than anything. Davey is so good that obviously [Moore] comes in and two doubles or whatever. It just always seems like he picks the right time to do something like that.”

Moore was hitless in his first eight at-bats, all from pinch-hitting opportunities or late-game substitutions. He was pressing, trying to do too much in his few chances. Last season, the Nationals were the best pinch-hitting team in the majors (a collective .288 average) but this season, with such a heavy reliance on the regular players, the pinch hitters were 2 for 13.

“Sometimes I feel like I take two swings on one pitch,” Moore said. “You want to get a hit so bad, and most times it doesn’t work out. The more you get to calm down, the more you square it up.”

Moore’s 2 for 5 night is “huge” for him, he said, because he can carry the confidence that he can hit back into his pinch-hitting role. He no longer has zeros across the scoreboard next to his name when he comes to the plate.

“Every time you get a start, you try to value that,” he said. “It just makes you calmer, because you’re getting three at-bats. It makes you able to calm down. I was able to do that today and it paid off.”

Veteran players understand Johnson’s dilemma. And while they may not like to defer their starting position, they know they will each have to relent for the sake of the team. The person delivering the news of the lineup change also helps.

“You’re not going to like it,” Jayson Werth said. “You feel like that’s your job and you don’t want to get taken away from it. But at the same time, our bench, we’ve got some guys that can really play. And they’re good guys, too, so you want them to stay fresh, you want them to play and do their thing. But at the same time, you want to play, too. So it’s a tough situation and tough balancing act. When the manager comes to you, you got enough respect for the guy to say OK. You’re not going to like it but you’re going to say OK….

“Once you get to the point where you play regular and you’re an everyday guy, some of us had to fight tooth and nail to get the opportunity. So once you get it, it’s kinda hard to let it go. Davey understands that. At the same time, I was in that spot, and I’ve talked to Roger Bernadina about it, after got the majors and went to Philly I was a bench player. Your manager, like the guy I played for, Charlie [Manuel], he likes his regulars and wants them to play. But going in there, I had no chance to play. It took two guys getting hurt for me to get a chance to play. Once I played, I gained his trust and I was able to play.”

FROM THE POST

Jordan Zimmermann fires his first nine-inning complete game in a 10-3 shellacking of the Marlins.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Ryan Zimmerman dealing with hamstring cramping

Nationals at Marlins discussion thread: Game 13

Davey Johnson rests Adam LaRoche to get Tyler Moore some playing time

Danny Espinosa’s hand, wrist stiff; he hopes for Wednesday return

Nationals-Marlins lineups

Denard Span isn’t so sure about the whole double-switch thing

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Buffalo 6, Syracuse 1: Left-hander Danny Rosenbaum, a Rule 5 pick returned to the Nationals from the Rockies, allowed one run on two hits over six innings. Chris Marrero smashed his second home run of the season.

Harrisburg 4, Reading 0: Anthony Rendon is heating up, going 2 for 4 with a double and solo home run. Blake Treinen, acquired in the Michael Morse trade, earned his first win with seven scoreless innings and four strikeouts.

Potomac 7, Salem 2: Michael Taylor and Adrian Nieto each finished 2 for 5, while Kevin Keyes drove in three runs. Taylor Hill fired six innings of four hits and one run, and struck out four batters.

Lakewood 5, Hagerstown 1: Mike McQuillan and Estarlin Martinez each smacked two hits. Dixon Anderson allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings and was saddled with the loss.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · April 15, 2013

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