Johnson on his eating habits, Mattheus’ return, Garcia’s lost season

A reporter for a national outlet is at Nationals Park today doing a story on how some major league teams are putting more of an emphasis on eating healthy these days and hiring specialty chefs for their clubhouses.

The reporter tried to get Nationals manager Davey Johnson to compare the food that players ate in his days to what players are eating in the Nats’ clubhouse now.

Johnson chose to take the conversation down a different path.

“Well, I’m a meat and potatoes man, and I like iceberg lettuce,” Johnson said, as reporters started to smile. “My wife has been trying to change me over to all this green stuff. So he’s pushing me in the direction my wife’s trying to take me. But I don’t have a weight problem, so I’d rather have more fatty food. So we’re at odds. I think he does a great job back there.

“I don’t know where you find those greens! There’s weird greens.”

The reporter then tried to follow up by asking if players eating healthier allows them to stay in better shape late in the season. Johnson wasn’t having it. He was on a roll.

“The only thing that saves us is we’ve got ham, cheese, roast beef, smoked chicken, that little thing that’s in the corner that you lift up,” Johnson said with a smile, drawing laughter from the beat reporters. “That’s where I’ll usually eat. But we always have fruit, and I think it’s good. We have special food that’s brought in. Some guys on our team have peculiar tastes. One or two.”

Needless to say, the postgame spread for today’s players is pretty different than it was when Johnson played.

“Cheese, crackers, beer,” Johnson said, again leading to a chorus of laughter. “That was it.”

Yeah, it was quite a pregame press conference today.

There was some actual baseball that was discussed, of course. Right-hander Ryan Mattheus was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse just prior to yesterday’s game, and will slot back in as a late-inning option in the Nats’ bullpen. Mattheus had struggled mightily with the Nats after coming off a lengthy DL stint in late July, but the Nats feel he got things straightened out at Syracuse, so he was brought back up for the stretch run.

“He’s back in the mix,” Johnson said. “I’m still trying to find that one other pitcher who fills out to where I have two set-up guys and I don’t use the same ones every time we have a lead. ... But Mattheus was throwing the ball good down there. He started getting extension. His split was better, slider was better and he was going right after hitters so he’s back to having low pitch count innings. I’ll use him late, any time, left or right.”

While in the minors, Mattheus worked with Syracuse pitching coach Greg Booker, (who he has a comfort with from their time working together at multiple levels of the Nats’ farm system,) trying to fine-tune his mechanics, and Booker immediately found that Mattheus was pulling off a bit on his pitches, clearing his head a bit too soon. The two made some tweaks, and Mattheus said things changed for the better pretty quickly.

“I’m just getting back to my old self,” Mattheus said. “With the two months off, the delivery wasn’t quite as locked in as I’d like it when I came off the DL, and my aggression wasn’t the same. It wasn’t a conscious effort that the aggression wasn’t there. I didn’t know I was doing it. It just, I wasn’t attacking guys. I wasn’t ahead in very many counts, I wasn’t throwing strike one. I wasn’t aggressive in the zone with my fastball, and I was getting hurt by it.”

Another reliever who played a key factor for the Nats down the stretch last season is Christian Garcia, but Garcia has really been set back by injuries this season. First it was a partially torn tendon in his right forearm that held the right-hander out of much of spring training and the early part of the season, and lately it’s been a hamstring injury that has kept Garcia out of games for the last seven weeks.

The Nats had high hopes for Garcia after how well he pitched for them last season, but he hasn’t been able to help them at all this year, either in the rotation (as they had originally hoped) or out of the bullpen.

“He’s not really throwing to hitters yet,” Johnson said. “It’s about the same thing every day. He’s throwing at 90 feet and doing his stretching, but I don’t see him, you know, probably not pitching the rest of the year. Probably have to go to winter ball or something.

“He was coming back from an arm injury when I had him last year, and he threw the heck out of the ball. I still think he has a bright future if he can just get healthy.”

Meanwhile, Johnson repeated his message from yesterday regarding left-hander Ross Detwiler, who still hopes to return to the Nats’ rotation this season despite missing the last seven-plus weeks with a herniated disc in his back. It seems Johnson’s bigger goal is to make sure that Detwiler gets tested enough over these next handful of weeks to the point that the Nats can tell whether his back is healed or will need further treatment in the offseason.

Essentially, Johnson wants Detwiler to pitch in games somewhere, even if it’s winter ball, to make sure he’s fully healthy.

“I said to Lee (Kuntz, head trainer), we’ve got to crank that thing up,” Johnson said. “If just the rest cured the injury, the symptoms of the injury, but the injury is still there, then we need to know. If there’s a little bulge in there that’s pinching a nerve, we need to fix it. It’s that simple, rather than rest, come spring training and then early in the season (it flares up), boom, he’s down.”

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