Johnson’s familiar lineup card starting to pay dividends for Nationals

The lineup is starting to show a familiar refrain.

Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper. Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel. The catching spot. The starting pitcher.

Johnson said the genesis of this particular starting nine was given boost into motion when he had a conversation with outfielder Roger Bernadina, who was off to a slow start due in part to a lack of consistent at-bats. With the unfortunate injury to Jayson Werth, Johnson was looking to mix up the lineup and find one that had a nice rhythm to it.

Then, Bernadina walked into his office.

“I had a conversation with Bernie right before (I changed the lineup),” Johnson remembered. “Bernie came in and said, ‘I want to play, I want to contribute.’ I said, ‘I want you to. I have been waiting on you. I can’t wait.’ Since that point, I moved him down to the two-hole and swapped him out with Espi. Everybody seems to kind of pick up. Bernie has been playing great.”

This new lineup debuted its recent run May 10.

Part of the adjustment was putting second baseman Espinosa in the six-hole. Since May 9, Espinosa has responded after a slow start with a six-game hitting streak, going 8-for-23 (.348) with two doubles, two homers, five RBIs, two walks and five runs scored.

Ankiel has also turned up the heat at the plate, even before the lineup adjustment. In the last 11 games, Ankiel has hit .316 (12-for-38) with two doubles, five walks, a home run and four RBIs.

“You only win when those 25 men contribute,” Johnson said. “We are getting close to that.”

Johnson has always said he wanted a lineup with Michael Morse and Werth in the middle of the fray. That won’t happen for a while, but Zimmerman, LaRoche and Harper have all had their moments.

“I try not to do a whole lot of tinkering,” Johnson said. “Think long, think wrong. You have guys hitting in different spots in the order for a reason. Usually those reasons stay pretty true. I’m not saying that you don’t need to kind of jumble them all up occasionally.”

He said rare changes to the starting nine helps the player get used to his surroundings and concentrate more on the pitcher than having to worry about what he is supposed to do.

“I like for guys to kind of know and prepare who they are hitting behind and who is behind them,” Johnson said. “They get comfortable with how they are being pitched in those situations. You have confidence that you don’t have to expand your zone because the guy behind you is going pretty good. ‘I’ll get on for them.’ ”

Johnson said his needs have changed. Last year, the Nationals were a right-handed-heavy hitting ball club. This year, when Sandy Leon arrived, Johnson said he could almost put out nine left-handed hitters against a right-handed pitcher.

But something can be said for a consistent lineup day in and day out. It is more amazing, considering the Nationals have had to cope with multiple players on the disabled list.

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