Davey Johnson tweaks the lineup again looking for any spark

(Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

(Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Denard Span emerged from the dugout tunnel around 3:15 p.m. and saw a handful of players already standing around the batting practice cage getting ready for early rounds of hitting. Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Steve Lombardozzi and others were there.

In all, nine players took early batting practice, and when Manager Davey Johnson came out to see LaRoche hit, he was pleasantly surprised to see so many players working to help snap the offensive slump the team is enduring.

“I was really kind of amazed,” Johnson said. “… I figured I’d stroll out there about two minutes after they started and watch Adam hit. And shoot, there was four or five guys with him. …. We had nine guys hit early. That’s a first for me. So that’s a good sign.”

Johnson has been trying to balance patience with a need to find any offense spark for a team eighth-worst in runs scored per game (3.62). Johnson vowed more changes to the lineup after another lackluster performance on Wednesday and the only new player he inserted was Lombardozzi, a contact hitter who has been arguably the team’s second-best hitter in limited chances. He will play third, where he played last season filling in for Ryan Zimmerman, and rookie Anthony Rendon will sit.

Jayson Werth, who has been hitting second in the lineup all season, moved to cleanup in order to break up consecutive left-handed hitters Bryce Harper at third in the order and LaRoche at fifth. Werth was open to the change as a way to help jump-start the offense. Johnson, however, conceded that he could have played either Werth or Lombardozzi high in Thursday’s lineup.

Thursday’s configuration is only for one game, as was LaRoche being benched for Tyler Moore on Wednesday. Johnson still intends to return to the opening day lineup that included Werth hitting second and Zimmerman hitting cleanup once the third baseman comes off the disabled list next week.

“I really like the way our lineup started the season,” Johnson said. “And with Zim out, it kinda changes that dynamics. The old adage: if you’re going to get beat, get beat making a change.”

Johnson still hopes that Desmond and Espinosa find a spark, too. Desmond, who is hitting .272 with three home runs, has gotten “a little out of whack,” swinging impatiently, Johnson said. Espinosa has cut down his strikeout rate but his at-bats have been inconsistent, and he has suffered bad luck with hard-hit balls. Johnson didn’t play Lombardozzi at second base, his natural position, because he wants Espinosa to get into a groove at the plate.

“My main concern is getting guys going,” Johnson said. “Getting something going for one or two guys and getting something going overall. It kinda snowballs. It can go both ways. Just a little something. A bloop here or there. A walk can get us going.”

Rendon, who was called up from Class AA Harrisburg on Sunday to play third base for Zimmerman, is hitting 2 for 15 in four games. He has started every day since his call-up but Johnson wanted Lombardozzi to hit. Rendon, 23, who played only 43 games last season in the minors due to a fractured ankle, is headed back to the minors once Zimmerman returns. Thursday is a momentary rest for now.

“If he’s going to be here … he’s going to play every day somewhere,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “If he’s here in the big leagues, he’s going to play every day in the big leagues.”

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