Davey Johnson didn’t just let out a figurative sigh of relief after Denard Span made a game-saving catch in the top of the ninth, laying out in the left-center field gap to rob Hunter Pence of a hit that would have at least tied the game and possibly given the Giants a lead.
Johnson literally let out a sigh of relief as he met with reporters following the Nationals’ 6-5 win, their fifth straight victory.
“Whew. Heck of a play,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think he was going to get to it. He kind of put it in another gear and then full out leaped.
“He’s made it look easy out there. He covers a lot of ground. Does great routes, get great jumps. Makes it a lot of times look easy.”
One might think that Johnson would be celebrating another victory and Span’s heroics after the game. And he might’ve been, at least initially. But managers are always more concerned with their team’s weaknesses than their team’s strengths, and right now, Johnson has a pretty big weakness he has to deal with.
The Nationals’ bullpen faltered again today, turning what was a 6-1 game after seven innings into a game where Span’s diving grab was needed to preserve a one-run win. Ian Krol allowed a run in 1/3 of an inning, Ryan Mattheus surrendered two runs on three hits and failed to record an out, and after Tyler Clippard struck out two to end the eighth, Rafael Soriano allowed three hits (nearly four) and a run in the ninth.
Johnson doesn’t seem worried about Soriano, but he is worried about his middle relief, which has really struggled lately.
“I’ve got to get some help in the bullpen,” Johnson said. “I can’t keep going to Clip and Sori. We should’ve been able to put that one away. ...
“I mean, we’ve just got to make better pitches. I understand Krol. He’s still feeling his way a little bit. But that’s a pretty good-hitting ballclub over there and you’ve got to make pitches. We had some guys ahead in the count, Soriano had guys ahead in the count and give up a base hit. We’ve just got to make better pitches.”
The Nats built up a 6-1 lead with a five-run fourth inning that saw 10 men come to the plate. Anthony Rendon’s two-run double broke a 1-1 tie, and three more runs followed in the frame.
Momentum started to turn in the top of the eighth, however. Brandon Belt crushed a solo homer off Krol, and then Johnson turned to Mattheus to face the heart of the Giants order. Buster Posey blooped a single to left, Pence singled to shortstop and Pablo Sandoval then crushed a two-run double to the gap in right-center that made it 6-4.
Johnson didn’t want to have to turn to Clippard and Soriano given their high workload and the fact that they pitched yesterday, but he had no choice.
“I had a bad feeling,” Johnson said. “When I brought Mattheus in, I told (pitching coach Steve) McCatty, ‘I’m going to have to get Clip up.’ I just got a bad feeling. He said let’s wait a hitter. Boom, boom, boom. Almost too late. ...
“(Mattheus) was better, except on, he gave up a couple little cheap hits and then didn’t come close on Sandoval, and you’ve got to go right after them from the get. You can’t let them see a whole bunch of pitches and then expect to get somebody out. That’s what’s going to happen. Somebody’s going to hit a ball hard. First-pitch strike. Get way ahead and bury ‘em. We’re just not doing it.”
While Johnson wasn’t as cheerful after the game as one might expect given the fact his team is riding a five-game winning streak, he is happy with how things have turned recently after the Nats were dominated in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves last week.
“We’re just playing better,” Johnson said. “Throughout the lineup we’re swinging the bats better. Water seeks its level, and sooner or later everybody’s going to start getting hits with runners in scoring position. We’ve got too good of talent. Anthony got the big hit tonight with the bases loaded double. He’s just growing, learning on the job.
“I like where we’re at. Just got a few little things. Got to get some people out out of the bullpen.”