May 19, 2019

Which Way Does Davey Johnson’s Second Act Go?

July 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Davey Johnson was Manager of the Year in 2012 because he brought out the best in a team few picked to win much of anything. Patience and quiet confidence in his players worked those wonders. But this year that same enduring belief in his players has become equal parts tragedy and comedy. Not comedy as in ha-ha, but comedy as in a story with a happy ending no one can see in the offing.

Take Danny Espinosa. It was tragic watching Espinosa battling through one of the worst slumps any Nationals player has endured since 2005. The slump continued even after Espinosa was sent down to Syracuse. But Davey went right on believing, saying that Espinosa had the talent, but was too stubborn to change his approach when it clearly wasn’t working.

In a July Fourth holiday double-header, Espinosa played both games and went 4-for-7 with a walk. He struck out only twice which was cause for celebration. The rare fireworks lifted his batting average from .088 to .143. Is it a sign of rebirth? Is it comedy or tragedy? The second act is just getting started.

Nationals reliever Drew Storen should be in Syracuse with Espinosa. There are not many late inning relievers with an ERA of 5.40 who are hanging around in the major leagues. Davey Johnson talked about Storen shaking off numerous signs before grooving two hanging breaking balls, the first to Yuniesky Betancourt and then another to Carlos Gomez, both of which were hit over the wall. Steve McCatty had visited the mound just before Gomez came to bat.

No one knows what McCatty says in those sessions, his head bobbing as he politely gets in the grill of his pitchers. What was uncanny was how Storen never made eye contact with McCatty, how he seemed totally unmoved by anything being said. Just to prove how unmoved he was, he set the curve up on a tee for Gomez who just flat knocked the piss out of it.

But Davey still believes in Storen or at least that is the public face he puts on it. Storen cost the Nationals their chance at the National League Championship last year. He imploded in the bottom of the ninth, unable to put away the Cardinals when they were trailing in the final game of the NLDS. And that was tragic. Most Washington fans worried that Drew Storen would let the affair get into his head.

But enough is enough. Seeing anything but tragedy in that one requires the faith of Job, or Davey Johnson.

Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post said it best—although Rosanna, Rosanna Danna said it first.  ”It’s always something.” There is Bryce Harper trying to run through a brick wall, then getting the yips anytime he gets near one thereafter. There is Ryan Zimmerman’s numerous errors as he relearns how to throw with a surgically repaired shoulder. Then you have Dan Haren.

Davey says Haren had great “tilt” on his cutter in his recent bullpen session and Davey cannot wait for Haren to take the mound again. That makes two people who are looking forward to Haren’s next outing—well, not counting the starting lineup he will be pitching against.

In 2012 Davey got optimal performances from bench players like Chad Tracy, Roger Bernadina, and Tyler Moore. None of the three has been north of the Mendoza line this season, but Davey continues to give them opportunities to play their way out of it, even as it costs ball game after ball game.

Is it a tragedy or a comedy? It’s only intermission so it is hard to tell. Right now the voters are all leaning tragedy. But the great ones get you thinking that. You are all lined up for a gallows finish and then the man with no name shoots through the rope. Or the train is bearing down on the beauty tied to the rails and Dudley Do-right rides to the rescue. “Surprise, Surprise,” Gomer Pyle used to say as everything turned up roses. So go get ’em Davey, time’s a wasting. The second act has just begun. You’ve got ’em right where you want ’em.


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