Johnson explains lineup changes, decision to play Espinosa (with Ramos note)

A frustrated Davey Johnson promised lineup changes after last night’s 2-0 loss to the Cardinals, the Nationals’ eighth defeat in their last 11 games.

Today’s lineup card, however, only saw two tweaks: Tyler Moore playing first base in place of the slumping Adam LaRoche and Jhonatan Solano behind the plate instead of Kurt Suzuki.

With the Nats facing Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia in this afternoon’s series finale, sitting LaRoche serves a dual purpose. It provides the 33-year-old a bit of a mental health day after he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts last night while also getting another right-handed hitter into the lineup in Moore.

“I talked to Rochy last night after the ballgame,” Johnson said. “It’s not a particularly good game and you certainly don’t want to sit out the next one. I said, ‘Well, not heaping on you. But we just gotta shake things up a little bit.’ “

This will be Solano’s first start since getting recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on April 14. Suzuki had played every inning of the Nats’ last nine games, but with a day game after a night game, Solano gets the call behind the plate this afternoon.

“I like the way Suzuki’s playing, but you’ve got to get something out of the 25 guys, not just a few guys,” Johnson said.

One change that Johnson opted not to make was putting Steve Lombardozzi in the lineup. Lombardozzi is batting .357 on the season, trailing just Bryce Harper in the average category among Nats players. Danny Espinosa, meanwhile, is batting .167 this season and is 1-for-10 with three strikeouts.

Johnson admitted he thought about making more adjustments to his lineup, but for now, Espinosa is still playing second base and hitting seventh.

“I will go to other guys more just so the (starters) don’t feel it’s all on them,” Johnson said. “It’s a long haul and you’ve got to have patience. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing for a manager to have. Patience.”

Johnson will continue to have patience with Espinosa, who has two hits in 14 at-bats since returning from a bruised wrist. If you want to look for positives in how Espinosa has been playing this season, his strikeout rate has dropped to 15.7 percent after sitting at 28.7 percent last year.

“I mean, his approach is definitely better,” Johnson said. “I like where he’s at. Just need to have one ballgame to get him going. That could be said for a lot of the guys.

“Danny had a great spring. He’s a deep thinker, too. Sometimes he gets in his own way. But if there was a secret formula on how to get guys to relax and do the things they’re capable of doing, then everybody would bottle it. Basically, just have a little patience. I see signs where it looks like he’s really getting focused and then I see times where he gets thinking too much. He’s not alone. Desi (Ian Desmond) does the same thing. Tries to do too much and (I) have conversations with him. Mostly, you gotta just stay positive.”

Over the course of his career, the switch-hitting Espinosa has proven to be more effective when hitting from the right side. He hasn’t gotten many chances from that side against left-handed pitching lately, but with Garcia going for the Cardinals this afternoon, Johnson might see this as a chance to get Espinosa going.

“He feels very confident from the right side,” Johnson said. “I like what he’s doing from the left side. It just hasn’t borne much fruit for him yet. Sometimes he just tries to do too much. All of them are so motivated and drive to be so good. It’s kinda hard for me to berate them or get on them. The fox hole guys come to play. But you gotta just ride out the rough times.”

Johnson has never been a big rah-rah kind of manager, eager to look for reasons to offer a pep-talk or hold a team meeting, instead preferring one-on-one conversations with his players. The Nats skipper was pretty frustrated when he met with reporters after last night’s loss, but he said he still doesn’t feel the need to address his team as a whole.

“I’m not quite there,” Johnson said. “I don’t like team meetings. I never have. Usually it’s more about if we’re making mental mistakes and I think we’re not focused. That’s what flips me real quick - if your mind’s wandering or you’re not paying attention or something. But I haven’t seen that.”

On a separate note, Johnson said that Wilson Ramos, who is on the 15-day DL with a strained left hamstring, will probably be ready to head out on a rehab assignment starting Friday. Johnson had previously mentioned the possibility of Ramos heading down to Viera, Fla., to get some at-bats at extended spring training, but if the weather stays nice in the area, Ramos could join an affiliate for a few games.

The 25-year-old catcher is eligible to come off the DL as early as April 29.

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