Nationals manager Davey Johnson has said since his first week at the helm that he wants his starters to be able to go seven innings and then have the bullpen take over.
Unfortunately, the last two games with Jordan Zimmermann, and Wednesday night with Livan Hernandez, the Washington starter has given up late runs that helped Arizona win those games.
Obviously, the Nationals are having trouble scoring runs against the Diamondbacks’ lethal starters. But that only exposes the point even more, that maybe Johnson is keeping these guys in too long.
He admitted it was his mistake with Hernandez in the eighth inning Wednesday, when Arizona scored a pair of crucial runs that turned a close 2-0 contest into a 4-0 advantage with only six outs left to play.
“In reality, I take responsibility for that one” Johnson said. “He was really pitching a great game. When he is good he is pretty good. In my mind, if he gives me seven I am getting him out of there. I balked. He got in trouble and he couldn’t get out of it. They say ‘managers lose games and players win them.’ I lost that one.
“I really don’t like to bring Henry (Rodriguez) in with men on base. I was warming him up after the seventh. When we made the error and the guy advanced to second, we got no choice but to walk (Justin) Upton. That is not the ideal situation for Henry.”
Tuesday, Zimmermann reached the seventh inning of a scoreless game with the Diamondbacks and pitched to four batters. A two-run homer by Sean Burroughs and a double by the pitcher Ian Kennedy ended his night.
Should Johnson has gone to the bullpen before the starters got into trouble?
Way back on July 7, Hernandez had an 8-0 lead on the Chicago Cubs before the Cubs tallied six hits off the veteran, including a dramatic three-run pinch hit homer by Blake DeWitt that swung the momentum squarely to the shoulders of the visitors from the Windy City and they eventually took the game 10-9.
You can see Johnson’s style in how he would like the Nationals starters go six or seven full innings. It is an ideal that he would like every one of his pitching staffs to reach.
But is Johnson asking the Nationals starters to do something he wants them to do versus something they are capable of doing?
So much was made about how good the Nationals bullpen was last year because Jim Riggleman would sometimes have his starters go just five innings. Can the Nationals starters this year find a happy median between what they are capable of right now and what Johnson believes they can do?
It is always a difficult choice for a manager to make, when to pull his starter. Wednesday, with the game on the line and the offense struggling against quality starting pitching themselves, Johnson decided to leave Hernandez in.
Nationals starters have had a good season, and that has been the key to their record hovering around the .500 mark. But this time it didn’t work out in their favor. There are other examples on the homestand where it did work for the Nationals (Detwiler, Zimmermann, Wang). It is just finding that right time that will always be a manager’s biggest call as the game reaches its finale.