Johnson on Nats’ must-win mindset, Espinosa’s approach

This is it. As Jayson Werth said yesterday, the Nationals have one game to play and one game to win.

The Nats’ backs are against the wall today, but they’re ready to go out and fight. Mark DeRosa said he planned to give his teammates a bit of a pep talk today, telling them to enjoy the moment and play with a sense of urgency. Manager Davey Johnson won’t do the same, but he spoke to some guys individually and spent time during batting practice going around and having one-on-one chats, as he usually does.

“I talked to a few of the boys, told them that it’s too early in October to be thinking about going home and starting your winter,” Johnson said. “I don’t believe in having pep rallies and whatever. ... I mean, they read the papers. They can add and subtract. They know how important it is to go out there and beat the Cards.”

Johnson mentioned yesterday that he’s been in tougher postseason spots before. He expanded on that today.

“The thing that jumps to my mind is (Game 6 of the 1986 World Series), two runs down, two strikes, two outs. Boom, we come back and score three runs,” Johnson said. “So you can’t take it for granted at any time, whether you’re up or down or whatever, that it’s over. That room over there, the guys I’ve got, they have that mindset. You take nothing for granted. We don’t feel like we are out of this by a long shot, believe me.”

Johnson will go to Jordan Zimmermann in relief today if he needs to, but he won’t call on Gio Gonzalez until tomorrow. Regardless of how things play out today, barring a game that goes deep into the night because of extra innings, Gonzalez will not toe the mound today.

“I need him for tomorrow’s game,” Johnson said. “If I throw everything but the kitchen sink here, I may not have a chance tomorrow. Gio is going to pitch Game 5.”

Danny Espinosa has gone just 1-for-9 with one walk and five strikeouts in the National League Division Series, and clearly is scuffling at the plate. He’s laid down a bunt in three of his 12 plate appearances this series, which has been surprising given that he rarely tried to bunt during the regular season.

Espinosa claims he’s healthy, and Johnson says his second baseman’s shoulder injury isn’t a problem at this point. So why all the bunting?

“You know, he’s trying to get on base, trying to make something happen,” Johnson said. “That always has been a weapon in his arsenal. He’s always, coming up through the minor leagues, been a good bunter, bunting for a base hit. He had one the other day if the umpire got it right. We don’t give him a bunt for a base hit sign. I have one, but he hasn’t been getting it.”

Espinosa hasn’t done much offensively this series, but that can’t be said for Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and second baseman Daniel Descalso. The two normally light-hitting middle infielders have combined to hit two home runs and drive in six runs over these three games, despite the fact that Kozma hit just .232 with 11 homers at Triple-A Memphis, where he spent most of this season, and Descalso only batted .227 with four longballs in 374 big league at-bats this season.

It’s made the bottom of the Cardinals order a surprise danger zone.

“(Kozma’s) been swinging the bat very good against us,” Johnson said. “We have made really pretty bad pitches to him. He likes the fastball and he likes it down the middle, and we’ve been giving it to him. And the second baseman Descalso, .220 hitter, he looks like Rod Carew out there, with power. Both of them are good fastball hitters and you make fastballs down the middle, they are going to hurt you.”

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