Pregame chatter with the skipper

ST. LOUIS - During his pregame session with reporters late this morning, Davey Johnson was asked if he said anything to his team this afternoon leading up to the first playoff game in Nationals team history.

“If I had a meeting, they’d think I’m panicking or something,” Johnson responded.

Instead of having an organized team meeting, Johnson went around and said a few words to players individually. Part of that message was not to force anything and to treat this just like any other game.

“I mean, it’s not my first rodeo,” Johnson said. “I’m kind of a dinosaur. I don’t change my stripes. My philosophy always has been, every game is a big game. From Game 1 to Game 162, we take them all serious. And this is no different. We know who we are. We know what we do well. We just need to go out and continue doing that.”

Yup, it’s business as usual for the Nationals in St. Louis.

When it comes to the postseason, some managers tweak their philosophy a bit when it comes to how they handle starting pitchers. Because each game is more meaningful, starters often have a shorter leash on days that they pitch. If they get off to a rough start, the manager is more likely to turn to the bullpen in the early innings.

Don’t expect that today from Johnson with Gio Gonzalez on the mound.

“Gio has struggled at times during the season,” the manager said. “A couple times out, I think he’s (thrown) about 50 pitches after two innings, and Gio will usually come by me and say, ‘Relax, Skip. I got it, I got it.’ And he probably would have had a heart attack if I had taken him out. Both those instances, I think there were a couple times that he struggled early and ended up still pitching six or seven innings and giving up one or two runs.

“So I’m not going to change the way I look at it. I don’t know how I’m going to react until I see what’s going on. I have all the confidence in the world that my starting pitchers are going to give me five, six, seven innings.”

A couple of Nationals officials told me they wouldn’t be surprised if Gonzalez was a bit over-amped early on, but they fully expect him to settle down as the game progresses.

As for his bullpen, Johnson will lean heavily on his key guys. In the regular season, a manager needs to worry about pacing his relievers for the long haul, needing to keep them fresh. That’s not a concern in the postseason where the stakes are higher from day to day and scheduled off-days allow relievers time to rest.

If the Nats lead in the late innings, expect to see the familiar trio of Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, regardless of how much they’ve thrown recently.

“I’m very fortunate, my bullpen is very durable,” Johnson said. “I try not to overwork them during the long haul. But just about everybody I have out there can go back-to-back-to-back (days). ... I’m not worried about overuse at this time. And we have two games and an off-day. We have had three days (off) before our first game. They’re all champing at the bit.”

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