Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo believes Davey Johnson was the best choice to manage the Nationals at this time.
Rizzo couldn’t hire John McLaren or Bo Porter. Porter could be the manager of the future, but this is about winning now. Johnson’s successful resume made it appealing for Rizzo to hire him.
Now, the new Nationals manager has to live up to expectations. That isn’t going to be easy. It’s been a long time since he managed a game. Will players respond to him? Can he keep up with the managers that use spreadsheets and notebooks to make decisions in a ballgame?
As much as Rizzo likes the hire, the jury is out on Johnson.
The Nationals have been on a roll by winning 13 of 15 prior to last night’s game against the Angels. They pitched well, and they found ways to win in tight-scoring contests. Jim Riggleman had the team going in the right direction, and there was no reason to think it was going to change. Unfortunately, he decided to quit as a result of Rizzo not talking about his contract.
Johnson’s job is not to mess up a good thing. He is going to have to keep up fast or else they could be heading to the wrong direction again.
Johnson’s debut wasn’t a good one last night. The Nationals took a 4-3 loss to the Angels in extra innings, and there were question marks about his decisions last night. Still, he should be judged on what he does from now until the rest of the season. It’s only fair.
If there is something Johnson can learn from last night, it’s that he shouldn’t start Matt Stairs anymore.
Stairs can’t hit anymore, which makes him an automatic out when he is at the plate. It’s a stretch to think he can contribute off the bench. Obviously, Johnson wanted to give everyone a chance to prove themselves, but this is a lost cause.
It’s remarkable the Nationals are keeping Stairs on the roster. He’s done.
There were other mistakes Johnson made. He should have spoken to John Lannan about not throwing to first when the Angels attemped to run on him. He should have told his starter to go out and throw strikes. He should have done the same with Sean Burnett in the 10th inning.
Lannan and Burnett were rattled when they were pitching. The Angels distracted them by stealing bases, and they lost focus after that. The Angels scored some runs as a result, and that’s why they celebrated a victory over the Nationals.
This is what happens when a manager is new to the team. He doesn’t know the player’s strengths and weaknesses right away. He is learning on the fly.
Former Nationals bench coach John McLaren could have been useful to Johnson in last night’s game. He would have told Johnson about the moves to make in beating the Angels, but he decided to resign out of respect to Riggleman.
Not only is the new manager behind, but Pat Corrales has to learn about the players as a bench coach.
For those that wanted Johnson to use Tyler Clippard in extra innings, he was not available. The Nationals setup guy had a tired arm after pitching in so many games last week.
Even if Clippard was available, Johnson shouldn’t have used him. This is about preserving the setup guy’s arm for the entire season, so it would be reckless to use him in a tie game that would not have guaranteed a victory for the Nationals.
If there was something positive about Johnson, he was engaged. He chatted with the players during the game. He seemed to have fun in the dugout.
That wasn’t the case when he managed the Dodgers. He was disinterested, and he seemed indifferent after losses. That rubbed off his players, and it resulted to the team underachieving.
The Nationals hope time off can get Johnson’s competitive side going. He has the talent to win games, so he has a good chance of having success.
This is going to take some time for him to be familiar with the team, but the Nationals hope they can win during this transition period.
If there is one thing Johnson has to do besides winning, it’s getting Jayson Werth on track. The Nationals’ overpaid player looks lost at the plate, which he struck out 11 times in the last four days and three times in last night’s game.
Johnson has to work with Werth on getting his swing back, and get his spirits going. If he can get him going, then the Nationals can be a better team.
It’s the expectation that the new manager welcomes. It’s going to be an interesting case study to see if Johnson still has it.