Davey Johnson normally walks through life with a smile on his face and a joke ready for those he encounters, regardless of the circumstances. The 70-year- old is typically upbeat and cheerful, even if his team is going through a rough patch on the field.
When reporters met with Johnson this afternoon, he spoke quietly and slowly, his spirits severely dampened by the firing of Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein, a move made by general manager Mike Rizzo without Johnson’s endorsement.
When reporters met with Johnson after tonight’s 6-5 loss, the Nats’ skipper appeared even more beaten down. It was perhaps the most distraught we’d seen Johnson since the Nats were knocked out of the playoffs last October.
“Yeah, this is a bad day for me, you know?” Johnson said. “I’m glad it’s over with.”
The Nats put up a fight tonight, coming back from a 5-0 deficit to make it a one-run game in the bottom of the ninth inning, thanks to a solo homer from Adam LaRoche in the fifth and two two-run bombs from Jayson Werth, one in the seventh and one in the ninth that cut the Pirates’ lead to 6-5.
But that’s where the rally ended, as Denard Span was left stranded on second base in the ninth and the Nats were stuck with their fourth straight loss coming out of the All-Star break. They now are three games under .500 for the first time this season and have dropped nine of their last 11 games.
“There’s a lot of character on this ballclub,” Johnson said. “There’s no quit. There’s a lot of fight. We’ve swung the bats pretty good. The guy (Pirates starter Charlie Morton) had an outstanding sinker. Really explosive the first few innings. But by and large everybody swung the bat pretty good.”
The Nats have been able to keep their spirits up despite the multitude of tough losses over the last few months, and Johnson doesn’t have any doubts that will continue, even after all that transpired today.
“There’s great character on this ballclub,” he repeated. “I’ve said it 100 times. I felt a lot of energy tonight as I do a lot of nights. When you swing the bats good, you pitch good, that’s what sets the ball rolling. It’s called momentum. We just are fighting to get a little momentum.”
They had to dig themselves out of a hole tonight after Dan Haren gave up five runs in five innings, an outing that got him his 11th loss of the season. Haren served up two two-run shots to Andrew McCutchen, who absolutely mashes Nationals pitching, and held the rest of the Pirates to just three hits.
“I thought overall his stuff was pretty good,” Johnson said. “Like I said, two pitches. He tried to sneak a high fastball by (McCutchen) in the first inning and bam, same thing later, next time up. I thought he pitched everybody else pretty dang good.”
Werth continued his recent hot streak with his second straight two-homer game, giving him 14 bombs on the season. He’s now batting .300 on the season and is hitting .431 with six homers and 13 RBIs over his last 15 games.
“I mean, he’s made some adjustments, he’s made some changes with his stance and I think his approach has been pretty good all year,” Johnson said. “I think the main thing with him is he feels like his left wrist is healthy. He’s been impressive. His approach in BP. So, I mean, he’s in a good spot.”
The Nats weren’t the only team dealing with rough circumstances today; despite the loss, the Pirates had to deal with what appeared to be a serious injury to All-Star closer Jason Grilli, who left the game with two outs in the ninth with what the Pirates are (for now) calling “right forearm discomfort.”
“Looked like he just strained his elbow or something, immediately after the pitch to (Steve Lombardozzi),” Johnson said. “Injuries are part of the game but that’s tough to do it like that.”
The crucial run in this game ended up being scored by the Pirates in the top of the eighth, when they already had a two-run lead. Ian Krol put two runners in scoring position with one out, and Drew Storen wasn’t able to clean up the mess. His wild pitch allowed Pedro Alvarez to scoot home and slid in safely, with Wilson Ramos’ throw to Storen bouncing off the reliever’s glove.
“Storen said he had trouble gripping the ball it was so hot,” Johnson said. “We just, we’ve got to, we can’t make those mistakes. We’re shorthanded with (Jordan Zimmermann’s) outing and extra innings and (Ross) Ohlendorf going on Friday. We’re short out there. That makes it tough.”
A tough day, overall.