New team-wide offensive approach netting positive results

Bryce Harper is getting a day off today, but he’s not the only Nationals starter who will be out of the lineup during this series with the Mets.

Davey Johnson has already decided that he’s planning on resting Ian Desmond tomorrow. He’ll go with his “pre-Desmond infield” of Danny Espinosa at short and Steve Lombardozzi at second, but he’s yet to inform Desmond about this decision.

“Don’t tell him I said that,” Johnson said with a smile. “I’ve already got one guy wanting to choke me to death.”

That guy, of course, is Harper, who is getting the day off today against his wishes. Johnson laughed when asked if Harper understands the reasoning for his day of rest - “No ... he’ll bang his head on that concrete wall until the wall goes down,” Johnson said - but the Nationals skipper again made mention of the fact that it’s his job to make sure all 25 guys, not just his starters, are fresh and ready to contribute.

Pretty much everyone has been contributing offensively of late, as the Nationals’ bats have really come alive over the last few months. That’s something which Johnson believes isn’t just a random occurrence, but is based on a new offensive approach he’s tried to instill since late last season in which his hitters go into their at-bats with a more aggressive mindset.

“The whole club really has had a philosophy change,” Johnson said. “The previous years, we were a go-the-other-way kind of club. Let the ball get deeper. That, to me, was a one-sided approach, because when a club knows you’re kind of one-sided that way, it opens up a big window to be pitched to. And that’s fastballs in on you. And that was a vulnerability. Didn’t matter if you threw 85 (mph). You could run it in on us, we were taking it or flare it to right. I talked about that approach with (Jayson Werth) at the end of last season. I said, ‘I remember you being a good hitter driving the ball to all fields.’ And he came into spring training this year doing just that, as well as a lot of other guys on our ball club.

“We now, our philosophy is hit the ball hard where it’s pitched. And to me, that’s not a talent change, that’s just a mental adjustment change. You make adjustments when clubs start pitching you certain ways. And to a man, we’re doing that. Their scouting report on how to pitch us is not as easy as it was.”

Johnson made a point that he’d like to get a chance to face the Dodgers again later this season because “everybody on their whole staff just throws inside fastballs,” and when the Nats went to L.A. back in late April, they were still evolving as an offense.

“We couldn’t hit it out of the infield,” Johnson said.

The Nationals scored a total of five runs in that three-game series with the Dodgers, but since the All-Star break, the Nats have scored 183 runs (5.1 per game), which is the most in the majors. They’re batting .275 as a team, which is the fifth-highest mark in baseball, and have gotten production not just from the middle of their order, but throughout the lineup.

“It’s a slow process, and you make small steps,” Johnson said. “But I thought, to a man, we were always making those steps in the right direction. And I’m pleased because now I feel like we’re all on the same page, to a man. I see the opportunity for us to be more consistent.

“We’ve had times this year where we’ve looked pretty good and then we’d slide a little bit and then look good and then slide a little bit. I think we’re getting much more consistently quality at-bats from throughout the lineup.”

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