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Davey Johnson gathered his players for a team meeting this afternoon.
The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes, but Johnson's message was clear.
"I wanted to let them know that I'm behind them 100 percent," he said. "I know we're going to get better as the season goes on. And I appreciate the effort they've given so far. ... I wanted to put them at ease that I have confidence in everyone on this ballclub, or else they wouldn't be here. I expect us to get it right."
The Nationals enter tonight's game against the Pirates on a three-game losing streak, having struck out 23 times in the first two games of this series. Several players, Johnson believes, look like they're trying to do too much, perhaps overcompensating for the losses of Michael Morse and Jayson Werth to injuries.
"They try to hit the ball too hard," the manager said. "They try to make up for the lack of power we have in the lineup. And I don't want that. We're not that kind of ballclub. Everybody's different. But all of the guys have the capability to be a good hitter."
Johnson sought not only to show confidence in his players through his words but also his actions. Thus, his lineup for this series finale isn't altered much from previous nights. Bryce Harper was bumped down to the fifth spot in order to provide some protection for cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche. But slumping second baseman Danny Espinosa (who leads the NL with 39 strikeouts) remains in the lineup and hitting sixth.
Johnson did meet individually with Espinosa this afternoon and offered him a chance to take the night off, with rookie Steve Lombardozzi filling his spot. The .189-hitting second baseman said he wanted to play.
"The most important guy right now in this lineup is Danny Espinosa," Johnson said. "And I had a conversation with him today about: 'Let me rest you. Lombo would certainly enjoy the opportunity to go out there and play second base.' But he said: 'I feel better. I've been a little confused.' I had a great conversation with him and I said nothing more than I'll give you every opportunity to do the things you're capable of, because we need you. Ergo, he's in the lineup."
Johnson reiterated a point he made Wednesday: He doesn't want players believing their jobs are on the line every time they step to the plate or take the mound. He also doesn't succumb to outside pressure calling for change.
"I wanted to let them know that I don't manage by audition, and I don't panic and I don't take a lot of advice from people that don't know a whole lot," he said. "I do read blogs and Tweeter and fans and the newspaper and also on the internet. I'm not immune to it, and I know these guys do it 100 times more than me.
"I'm not saying there's not always some good advice in there. But you're dealing with people that have feelings and you're also dealing with people that have a lot of pride. And also I want to be consistent with opportunities. The more you play, the more opportunities you get. It's kind of simple with me. One day doesn't necessarily make a winning streak. And a couple 0-fers doesn't necessarily mean a slump."