The Nationals held a 1-0 lead at the time, and Gonzalez had thrown seven scoreless innings, needing just 86 pitches to do so. He still appeared to have plenty left in the tank, but with the Nats managing almost nothing offensively and with a rested Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano in the bullpen, Johnson opted to make a move.
He called on Chad Tracy, who was batting just .143 on the season, to pinch hit for Gonzalez. Tracy struck out, the Nats went 1-2-3 in the seventh, and then Storen and Soriano each surrendered single runs in the eighth and ninth, respectively, leading to a 2-1 loss.
“I’m always gonna try to add on,” Johnson explained after the game when asked about his decision to remove Gonzalez. “Even though he had a fairly low pitch count, my bullpen was rested. ... I’m trying to add on. It’s just the way I manage. Obviously, I’d have been better off in hindsight (leaving Gonzalez in), but I have all the confidence in the world in my bullpen. They just didn’t do it. Chalk it up to me.”
Gonzalez was perfect through his first five innings, and after getting into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, he threw a 1-2-3 seventh. He kept the Cubs at bay all afternoon, but Johnson felt he had a chance to add an insurance run or two in the seventh with Tracy and the top of the order coming up, and he went that route.
“(Gonzalez has) been a little bit inconsistent, but once he sees that I’m close to pinch hitting for him, I’ve pretty much got to,” Johnson said. “I have to. After he pitches the seventh and we’ve got a one-run lead. It’s also, very seldom early in the season will I let a guy go out there and if he gets a guy on. ... I don’t want him to lose a ballgame late in the game. Just the way I manage.
“Chalk it up to me. You don’t like it? Chalk it up to me. Didn’t work out.”
Johnson reiterated later in his press conference that while Gonzalez had been pitching well, he has guys at the back end of his bullpen that he has a lot of faith in, as well.
“I’ve got a guy out there (Storen) that saved 43 games,” Johnson said. “I’m not gonna put this all on Gio. These guys can do it. We didn’t do it. But we’re fully capable of doing it. And it’s a long season. We can get things going our way. But I have confidence in the world that Storen could hold them right there and Soriano close out the ninth.”
The run that scored off Soriano in the ninth, the game-winner, was unearned. Alfonso Soriano stole third, and then waltzed home when catcher Kurt Suzuki’s throw down to third glanced off the bat of Welington Castillo and went down the left field line. Johnson said batter’s interference can’t be called there because Castillo didn’t intend to make contact with the ball. It’s Suzuki’s responsibility to clear him on that throw.
Suzuki was then ejected in the ninth inning when he argued a called third strike. Home plate umpire John Tumpane’s strike zone was wide all day (you can find evidence of that here by taking a look at the called third strike Ian Desmond took in the third inning), but Johnson opted not to publicly criticize Tumpane’s zone.
“You have to make adjustments, that’s all I can say,” Johnson said. “We have the luxury of looking at videos and everything. Guys know that it’s a pretty good strike zone. But you know that. So you’ve got to be aggressive. Swing the bat. Put it in play.”
The Cubs picked up just their 15th win of the season today, and they aren’t expected to do much this season, what’s viewed as a rebuilding year for them. But Johnson doesn’t view losing two of three to the Cubs as a missed opportunity.
“Any time you lose a ballgame, especially have the lead late and lose the ballgame, it’s a missed opportunity,” he said. “No doubt about it. Regardless of the strike zone, we didn’t swing the bats that good. We didn’t really have that many opportunities to score, that’s why when we did have an opportunity to score, I was gonna go for it.”