Jury Should Be Out on Davey Johnson


Davey Johnson managed his 53rd game for the Nationals last night, and his record is 22-31 after the Nationals took a 6-3 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

What to make of Johnson? That’s a good question. It’s hard to say if he did a great job or a bad job.

When he became the Nationals manager in June, it was going to be an adjustment for him. He had to know how to use his players.  It took awhile for him to know what pitchers would be successful in the right spot.

It was frustrating when he had a hard time managing the pitchers in July. He kept putting guys like Sean Burnett or Henry Rodriguez for six outs  in relief or he would leave his starters too long. Plus, his team was making errors in the game.

That led to many losses, so he was off to a rough start amid high expectations. He took over when the Nationals were playing well by winning games under Jim Riggleman, who quit after Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo refused to talk about his contract status for next year.

Lately, Johnson has done a better job of managing. Put it this way. His grade has gone from a D – to C.  it’s hard to give him a grade above C when he has a losing record, not to mention the team having a losing record. At least, his report card is much better.

Johnson’s improvement stems from having a quick hook with starters. He no longer keeps them out there if they don’t have it. He will always have a fresh arm ready when it’s time to get his starter out of there, which John Lannan and Livan Hernandez can attest.

He has done a good job with Todd Coffey,  Ryan Mattheus, Burnett and  Rodriguez by using them as situational relievers. He will use them for only one inning rather than have them go two innings. Sometimes, he will put any of them in to get an out or two in a game.

Johnson has made bold moves with using his setup guy and a closer to get an extra out. He is not afraid to use Tyler Clippard early if the situation calls upon it. He did that against the Rockies on Aug. 5, which he used his setup guy for an out in the sixth inning, three outs in the seventh inning and two outs in the eighth. He also used Drew Storen for a four-out save in that game.

Managers never use their setup guy in the seventh inning. They go by the book, which says never use a guy outside of their comfort zone. Setup guys always flourish in the eighth and closers do their work in the ninth. The other innings is for other relievers to set the bridge to the setup guy and a closer role.

It’s refreshing to see managers stray from that strategy when they need to get an important win, and Johnson needed that win on that Friday against the Rockies.

Right now, everything has worked for him. The entire bullpen has pitched well, and it’s no secret the Nationals were at the cusp of being at .500 on Monday when they were 62-64 as a result of his managing of the bullpen.

Since then, the team lost five in a row, and the team is 62-69. So much for this idea the Nationals are going to finish the season at .500 or above.

It’s not happening. This team is not a good hitting team, so they will lose more games. It has happened during this losing streak, and it happened often this season.

Mark this team down as a 76-win team. Not even Johnson can do anything to fix the woes on offense.

With a season to go, folks are going to wonder if the current Nationals manager will hang around for next season. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell saw enough to campaign for Johnson to manage the Nationals next season. Most of the Nationals fans feel he can do no wrong, which is interesting since they ripped Riggleman despite overachieving with the players he had this season.

It looks like Johnson will be back as the Nationals manager. He likes managing the players on the team, and he wants to be the guy that takes them to the playoffs either next year or in 2013.  Plus, Rizzo has a great admiration for him.

If the Nationals general manager had his way, Johnson would have managed them to start the 2011 season. There’s no question the current Nationals manager was going to manage the team, and  Riggleman knew it, which is why he quit on them before they told him his service was not needed.

Johnson has a lot to prove before he can be the manager next year. One good month does nothing. It would be nice if he had a winning record before the season over. It would be neat if the Nationals can get into high 70s in victories. If he accomplished that, he has a good case of coming back. That would be enough validation for Rizzo to bring him back.

If this team goes backwards in September, there’s no reason to have him manage next year. It would be hypocritical of Rizzo to be down on Riggleman for not making enough progress, yet hold Johnson to a different standard.

The Nationals may be better off with a young manager working with a young team or a manager that knows how to win in Tony La Russa or Ozzie Guillen.

In a perfect world, Johnson would be evaluated from now until Game 163. That’s not going to be the case. The decision is his call, not Rizzo’s.

Count this skeptic as someone that needs to be convinced Johnson is the guy moving forward.