PHILADELPHIA - It might sound a bit silly at first, but Davey Johnson thinks a key to the Nationals' 5-1 win over Cliff Lee and the Phillies tonight was his team's aggressive approach in batting practice.
Aggressive approach? In batting practice?
By that, Johnson doesn't mean that there are some days where his players just stand there in the cage and choose not to swing. (Or, for the Seinfeld fans out there, choose not to run.) He doesn't mean that his guys strictly lay down bunts during some BP sessions.
What he means is that with Lee on the mound, he saw a conscious effort by Nats hitters to attack inside pitches and drive them hard to the pull-side.
"There's a big difference," Johnson said. "Sometimes we come into batting practice and we look like we try to hit everything to right field. Today we were hitting everything on the rooftops in left. We knew who was out there and we knew he was gonna come in on us, throw the fastball and come at us. The guys approached him that way and that was a great way to approach him."
The Nats hit four home runs off Lee tonight, all in an eight-hitter span over two innings. Two of those homers came on an 0-2 count, which is surprising given that Lee hadn't allowed an 0-2 homer all season entering tonight.
"They got the head out," Johnson said. "And he throws that cutter in on them and got the head out on it. That's what you have to do with him. You can't let him jam you. He pitches inside a lot, uses his fastball, goes right after you. That's what I was really pleased with, the way we approached him.
"That's when he really likes to throw that cutter in, (on 0-2 counts). And we were ready for it."
Anthony Rendon notched two more extra-base hits tonight, one of which was a solo homer in the fifth that opened the scoring. That homer came on a cutter in, and Rendon got his hands inside the ball and drove it out to left-center for his fourth homer of the season.
He later doubled to right-center, giving him 16 extra-base hits in 40 games this season.
"Well he's just got good hands," Johnson said. "They've been pounding him in and even in BP, he was more aggressive in BP. He knows what they're trying to do. He's no dummy. And he was working on getting that head out. He's no dummy. He went to Rice University. He's gotta have something up top.
"And he's done that a couple times now with two strikes when they try to come in on him, hit balls out of the ballpark."
Gio Gonzalez went through a five-start stretch from late May through mid June where he got next to no run support. The Nats scored less than two runs per game for Gonzalez in that span, but the offense has been there for him lately. Today, Gonzalez saw a scoreless game quickly turn into a 4-0 Nats lead, and while he got into some trouble in the seventh, he worked out of it by getting Ben Revere - who represented the tying run - to fly out to end the frame.
Gonzalez ended up allowing one run over seven innings, dropping his ERA to 3.03.
"That was his last hitter," Johnson said of Revere. "I was going to bring in Clip to face Rollins if he didn't get the left-hander. And I had so much confidence. Left-hander (Revere) is hitting about .360 against left-handed pitching, but I like the way Gio pitched him and I stayed with him."