“We’re trying to score,” Johnson said. “That’s just a case where you got to bunt.”
Maybe he didn’t have to. First, Johnson had taken the bat away from his No.2 hitter, even if Rendon grounded into two double plays Friday night. Second, he had expressed concern before the series about the strength of the Dodgers’ left-handed relievers. Since Rendon was facing right-hander Jose Dominguez, a successful bunt would enhance the odds of a crucial at-bat coming in a lefty-on-lefty matchup.
Plus the bunt needed to be successful to work at all, and the Nationals have botched bunts with an alarming frequency this year. Rendon’s bunt rolled toward Dominguez. He turned and fired to second base. Span seemed to beat the throw, but second base umpire Eric Cooper called him out. Johnson argued to no avail.
The inning continued with Ryan Zimmerman, whose third single of the night placed runners on first and second with one out. The good news was, Bryce Harper was walking to the plate. The bad news: Manager Don Mattingly summoned dominating lefty specialist Paco Rodriguez.
Harper aspires to keep his front shoulder closed against tough left-handed pitchers, allowing him to reach sliders that curl across the outer half of the plate. Against Rodriguez, he bit his jersey at the shoulder, forcing himself to not open up too soon. This time, it didn’t work. Rodriguez struck him out swinging at a slider.
Jayson Werth had the chance to atone for two earlier missed chances. Mattingly brought in Ronald Belisario, and Werth grounded out to shortstop.
In the eighth inning, the Nationals created another opportunity and gave Johnson another decision. Runners stood on the corners with one out and the pitcher’s spot up. Against Belisario, Johnson opted for Scott Hairston rather than switch hitter Steve Lombardozzi.
Hairston “is a good fastball, veteran hitter,” Johnson said. “I want him up there.”
Hairston struck out. Mattingly brought in J.P. Howell to face Span, and he flied to right to end another threat.
In the 10th, Johnson chose Craig Stammen to try to keep the game tied with left-hander Adrian Gonzalez due. Johnson wanted a right-hander to face Hanley Ramirez, who was due up second, and so he gambled that Stammen could retire Gonzalez. (If a batter reached, he wanted Ian Krol to face Andre Ethier with a man on.)
Well, Stammen hung a curve ad Gonzalez plastered it into the left field corner for a double. Stammen made “the worst pitch I’ve thrown all year” to Ramirez, a hanging slider he belted to the left-center field gap. The go-ahead run scored, and Johnson knew he would face some questions. He also, as ever, still believed in what he had done.
>>> In the seventh inning, some of Storen’s fastball looked like they might be cutters. He explained that they were just four-seamers, but the different movement was still significant. Storen changed his grip on the four-seam fastball to prevent it from fading. He wants the pitch to zip straight, but sometimes it cuts slightly.
>>> It was lost in all the madness of the game, but Gio Gonzalez was just awesome. He matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts in six scoreless innings. He allowed four hits, all of them from Zack Greinke and Ramirez. Since the start of May, Gonzalez has a 2.00 ERA over 14 starts.
Saturday, he helped the Nationals’ continue their domination of Yasiel Puig, who is 0 for 9 with five strikeouts over the first two games. “I don’t want to say” why, catcher Wilson Ramos said. “But we got a good plan.”
>>> Just to top off a rough night for the Nationals, Danny Espinosa was ejected arguing balls and strikes at Class AAA Syracuse.