Nats not playing as 'loose' as last year
PHILADELPHIA — If the Nationals are going to snap out of their season-long malaise that has left them hovering right around the .500 mark for the better part of 2 1/2 months, it's going to require a collective loosening up by players who might just be too tightly wound at the moment.
Manager Davey Johnson, after meeting with shortstop Ian Desmond this afternoon, said he wants his team to be looser, not putting so much pressure on itself to live up to the club's lofty preseason expectations.
"I was talking to Desi a little earlier, and he felt like the club was not as loose as it was last year," Johnson said. "It's trying to be loose. Well, I said, we're young. We're awfully young. We've got some young guys on the bench. It's a situation where they have to go through the experience. That's part of it. But I think we'll be fine. Learn to just play loose, free and easy, and the offense will pick up."
Johnson specifically mentioned the younger players on his roster who burst onto the scene last season but have struggled to produce at the same level this season.
"A lot of guys are trying to make their marks in the big leagues, establish themselves up here," the manager said. "It's part of what you go through. Last year was a very exceptional year. Some guys came up and played very well. [Bryce] Harper came up. Tyler Moore. [Steve] Lombardozzi. Now this year, with some injuries, they've been pressed in there, and I think they're just learning that other clubs are looking at you a little differently and they pitch to you differently, and you've got to make adjustments. That's part of the second time around."
Johnson also pointed to the added pressure thrust upon a club predicted by many to win the World Series this year.
"I don't think I'm putting too much pressure on them," said Johnson, who did declare the season's motto as "World Series or bust" in December. "I know they've got the talent. It's part of experience. When you get to the top of the hill, it's a lot of times tougher to stay there. You have to go through struggles, and that's what they're going through. But as a group, I think we're going to be fine."
Johnson tries to find the positives in his club's sluggish first half of the season, believing it might actually make his players stronger mentally down the stretch.
"I just told [Desmond] it's good that we've struggled, but there's a whole lot of the season left ahead of us," Johnson said. "I look at things happen for a reason, and I think this is good. Struggle and learn how to come back."