Johnson, like his predecessor Jim Riggleman, has been trying some fiddling of his own with the Nationals’ batting lineup — anything to help slumping players find a comfortable groove. In the second game, Johnson asked Werth, after talking with him before, to bat fifth for the first time this season. By dropping Werth down from the top of the order, Johnson moved Danny Espinosa, one of the Nationals most consistent offensive threats, up into the second spot.
“Did it look good?” Johnson asked, as if searching validation of something he already felt.
But then, very quickly, Johnson answered his own question: “It didn’t perform good, but it looked good.”
In the win, Johnson admitted the Nationals lackluster offense tested his limits. His knee-jerk assessment of his team’s offense after both games, ones that each featured nine stranded base runners, was that it was “terrible.” But even then, Johnson said he liked what he saw in Saturday night’s lineup. He wants Roger Bernadina at leadoff, Espinosa right behind him and Werth lower in the order, a spot he has long envisioned for the right fielder. It’s a lineup that Johnson admitted occurred to him in the middle of the night before Saturday’s game after only four hours of sleep.
“I’m fiddling with the lineup a little bit, but I like some of the things that happened today,” Johnson said, “even though we only got five hits. I still like the look of it.”
The game-tying run came on a double steal by Brian Bixler and Rick Ankiel, a strategy Johnson said he felt he needed to use but not one he likes to. He said he is accustomed to power-hitting teams, not ones that have to scrap for runs by stealing bases or forcing other teams to make tough throws in crucial spots.
“We had the right guys up with men in scoring position and we just didn’t get it done,” Johnson said. “Groundballs in the infields, break up double plays, we really didn’t drive anybody in except for [Ivan Rodriguez’s go-ahead RBI single in the eighth.] I know it’s going to get better. I’m optimistic. I like to score runs. I’m kind of an offensive manager. I’m having to open up a new playbook and its not one that I like to steal and have to hope they throw it away.”
Overall, Johnson felt, the team didn’t perform to the best of its abilities on Saturday. The bullpen, notably Sean Burnett, struggled in the first game, a 5-3 loss to the Pirates, and was short a reliever with Henry Rodriguez out sick. And with Laynce Nix still nursing a sore Achilles tendon and Ryan Zimmerman’s timing a little off at the plate, the Nationals have still managed to win two of three games against the Pirates and managed to stay one game above .500. It’s a team that despite its question marks has shown reliance, a trait Johnson admires and isn’t asking others about.
“Good teams find ways to win,” he said.