"We didn't actually pound the ball that hard. But, we'll take it." Davey Johnson on last night's win.
As has been the case all season, the Washington Nationals just couldn't get enough runners on base. The few times someone reached, no one could drive them in.
But a late substitution for the Houston Astros at third base threw away a ball he had no chance to get an out on, and the Nats ended up in the win column more by fortune and perseverance than excellence.
With runners on first and second in the 11th inning, Jayson Werth hit a sharp ground ball to third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who was inserted as a pinch-runner in the top of the frame. Manager Davey Johnson described the play and what he was thinking. "I was just rooting for a bad hop. Somehow [Paredes] got a glove on it. I said 'I don't think he can get two'. When he fell down, I said 'He can't get one.' Then he was nice enough to throw it away."
The resultant 4-3 victory was no less sweet to any of the players or fans, but Johnson still had the look he's worn most of the season after the game. It's one of frustration, that the collection of offensive players on this team aren't making the adjustments to cut down on the strikeouts (the Nats are second worst in the N.L.), move the runners over, get the big hit at the right time.
Or maybe it's not that they aren't making the adjustments. Maybe it's becoming a realization that some of the players on the roster can't do it. All season long, from former manager Jim Riggleman to Johnson to GM Mike Rizzo, the mantra from the executives of this franchise has been, "They'll eventually hit," or "They'll have their numbers at the end of the year."
Well, maybe they are the players their numbers say they are.
Other than Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, there's not another regular hitting above .260. Jayson Werth's struggles, the year after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract, are well documented. Danny Espinosa -- a one-time Rookie of the Year candidate -- is hitting .206/.285/.311 with three home runs and eight RBIs since the All-Star break. The list, unfortunately, goes on right through the roster. There's not a player on the bench with more than 40 plate appearances with a batting average over .246.
The team as a whole is 14th in batting average, 13th in OBP and 11th in slugging in the National League.
Johnson's a man that puts his emotions up front. There's no confusion about how he feels on any given topic. Last night, he expressed his exasperation about the offense.
"I have trouble sleeping at night thinking about it. It just makes it tougher on the pitching staff, tougher on the defense," Johnson said. "I usually don't talk a lot of hitting during the season. I'm starting to open up and talk about what I'm seeing with the hitters. I usually do that in the spring. That's a spring job - talking about what I'm seeing, and what I'd like to see us accomplish and do, from each individual. A lot of guys are trying to establish themselves. Our veteran key guys have been out most of the year. The offense is going to struggle. But there's no give-up in it. That's the good thing."
"I know the talent's there," Johnson reiterated. "But we just haven't put it all together."
The bright spot, other than Ryan Zimmerman's two-run home run in the first inning, was rookie starter Tommy Milone, making his second start of the season for the big club. The 24-year old lefty worked in and out of trouble, going 5 2/3 innings. He gave up three earned runs on eight hits but did not walk a batter, and struck out three. He put multiple runners on in the third fourth and fifth innings, but only two runs.
In the sixth inning though, after a double and two-out single pushed across the third run, Johnson had seen enough. "He pitched out of a couple of tough jams. Everything about me wanted to leave him in there and finish that inning and hopefully get him a win." But the manager summoned recently-recalled Craig Stammen, who got Humberto Quintero on a comebacker with his first pitch.
Johnson was effusive in his praise for Milone after the game. "I love to see young pitchers use both sides of the plate, keep them from just sitting and looking out there. That's nice. I like it. I like everything about him."
Milone, like all the other Nationals starters before him this season, could just use a few more runs to work with.
THE GOOD: The bullpen. Stammen, Hot Rod, Storen and Clippard (W, 3-0, 1.96) went 5 1/3 shutout innings, giving up just two hits and no walks in the process with seven strikeouts. Storen's performance was encouraging, striking out two, after his meltdown in Thursday's loss to the Dodgers.
THE BAD: Danny Espinosa. Another 0-fer and another strikeout. He has 145 for the season in 140 games.
THE UGLY: Steve Lombardozzi. It's a little tough on the September call-up, but he went 0-for-5 out of the leadoff spot and is hitless in 10 plate appearances with one walk since his activation.
Playing shortstop last night, he made one nice backhanded stab for an out. But also had a fieldable ball get past him after a dive to his left that Ian Desmond probably doesn't have to leave his feet for. I don't know if Lombo is cut out to play short in the Majors, but that's what September is for.
THE STATS: Six hits, five walks, seven strikeouts. 2-for-5 w/RISP, six LOB, no GIDPs. No errors.
NEXT GAME: Saturday at 7:10 pm against the Astros. John Lannan (9-11, 3.48) faces Wandy Rodriguez (10-10, 3.47).