PITTSBURGH -- Before Saturday's 5-4 victory against the Pirates, Nationals manager Davey Johnson held a team meeting. He was concerned about how the team played during Friday's 3-1 loss to the Pirates, when he Nationals struck out 14 times, seven of them on called third strikes, and also made baserunning mistakes.
Johnson told his players to try to not do too much. If they are going to strike out, go down swinging. Johnson didn't yell at anybody because he realizes he has great character guys on the roster. He simply thinks the players are putting too much pressure on themselves. The Nationals entered Saturday's game with a 15-15 record, 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves.
"Across the board, we are not playing up to our potential. I take that more personally because my job is to put them in situations to succeed," Johnson said. "So if they are not succeeding, am I doing something wrong, are the coaches doing something wrong? Are you listening to what these writers are writing? What are you doing? So, just trying to clear the air, make it simpler. Let's keep having fun. We are here to do things that we are capable of doing. It was that kind of a meeting."
Johnson also realized that he has been inconsistent when it comes to using his bullpen. There are days when the starting pitchers go deep in the game and other days he needs his relievers in the game by the fifth inning. Johnson had individual meetings with his relievers to see if they were getting enough work.
"I was wondering if I was getting guys up and [not using] them. I was wondering if that was affecting some of the guys," Johnson said. "It was to let them know where I'm coming from and for them to be aware that I understand what they're dealing with."
Talk to third base man and he didn't feel Johnson had a meeting Saturday morning.
"He said, it's more for him, not for us. He likes to vent a little bit," Zimmerman said. "Davey is so great with all of us in here. He takes the blame for so much. When he has a meeting like that, or a talk as he calls it, it's more [about] everyone [needing] to relax.
"We have a really good team, it's early in the year. Everyone thought we were going to come out and win 100 games, which we still can. We are not going to go 20-10, every month. I'm sorry. It just doesn't happen in professional sports. I feel a lot of people thought we were going to do that - people in the locker room, media, fans. It's not going to happen. You are going to have bad months like we had in April. It's a new month. We need to grind out at-bats and do things like we did last year."
On May 10 of last year, Johnson held a team meeting for similar reasons. It also took place in Pittsburgh after the Nationals lost three straight games.
That meeting came after the Nationals left 10 runners on base and had runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs in the final two innings of a 4-2 loss to the Pirates.
"I had no idea [the meeting happened last year]. It never entered my mind," said Johnson on why he held the meeting on Saturday. "I don't have many meetings. Maybe, after 30 games, it's somewhere deep down in my self-conscious. That's something I didn't know. I learn something every day, I guess."
To get some of the frustration out of his system, Johnson took batting practice in the indoor hitting cage and took 40 swings. He sustained a blister on his left hand during the session.
"I wanted to see if it was that hard to hit a baseball," Johnson joked.
After the Nationals beat the Pirates, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann jokingly asked Johnson about having another meeting on Sunday.
"Same time, tomorrow?" Zimmermann asked.
"You can forget it," Johnson said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.