In September 2011, at the end of his first season as Nationals manager, Davey Johnson made the future a priority. He inserted Brad Peacock and Tom Milone into the rotation and removed stalwart Livan Hernandez. Call-ups dotted the starting lineup every day. The Nationals were out of contention, and they played like it.
Johnson is not ready to concede the Nationals have entered the same situation this season. Even before the Reds beat the Dodgers again this afternoon, Baseball Prospectus had placed the Nationals’ odds of winning the second wild card spot at 0.6 percent. They entered the night 8 ½ games behind the Reds with 22 left to play. But Johnson is not ready to surrender or to start giving minor leaguers extensive playing time.
“I still think if we get on a little win streak here, win a bunch of games, anything can still happen,” Johnson said. “I’m still using the players I think are best suited for us to win the ballgame. By the same token, I have in mind these guys are up here because it’s a reward for a good year. If the situation arises, I’ll definitely get them in. If the situation arises, I’ll definitely get them in there. But basically, I’m going to put our best foot forward until we’re mathematically eliminated.”
The Nationals have few questions they need to answer about their call-ups. Tanner Roark will start tonight, and his performances in the rotation may determine how long a look he gets next spring. But the Nationals have already seen Jeff Kobernus, Eury Perez and Corey Brown, all of whom can put their stamp on bench positions.
“We’ve got pretty much a set lineup,” Johnson said. “You’re looking at guys that would be bench players. Not anybody that we called up is going to beat out any guy on this ball club. Possibly if they have a little success up here, they could be playing for some other club. It helps their progression and growth and just adds more assets to the organization.”
Johnson also noted the importance of letting the other 29 teams watch how prospects perform in the majors. After 2011, the Nationals used Peacock and Milone in the package that landed them Gio Gonzalez from Oakland.
“It not only helps us,” Johnson said. “We pretty much know our guys. But when you get guys in a lineup, other people see them and sometimes it opens up a trade that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to make.”