Johnson grapples with lineup decisions

723418.png

Johnson grapples with lineup decisions

PITTSBURGH -- When he arrived in Viera, Fla., for spring training, Davey Johnson had a clear idea what his starting lineup would look like, and had no reason to believe it would change on a daily basis.

But then various members of the Nationals roster started dropping like flies, and so the veteran manager found himself early this morning scribbling out various combinations that might provide some spark to his struggling offense.

"Believe me, I had four or five lineups I was going through last night at 1:30 in the morning," he said. "And I'm taking any kind of input, even from writers. I'm all for it."

Johnson was kidding about taking advice from writers (we hope) but he did proceed to detail the challenges of putting together a starting lineup that takes all sorts of things into consideration: What gives his team its best chance to win that day, what's best in the long-term, what's best for slumping players, what's best for untested rookies.

Above all else, Johnson tries to abide by this mantra: Don't put players in a position where they fear the result of every single at-bat could affect their status.

"One thing you don't want to do is audition players," the manager said. "You have a good game? I'll hit you fifth. You have a bad game? I'll hit you ninth. I'm not an audition manager. I judge talent, and I put them where I think they should be, and I expect them to perform at that level."

That line of reasoning explains in part why a struggling player like Danny Espinosa (who enters tonight's game with a .186 average, two RBI and an NL-leading 37 strikeouts) remains in the heart of the Nationals' lineup, batting sixth tonight against the Pirates.

Johnson did admit concern about Espinosa, particularly his recent penchant to swing at breaking balls well out of the strike zone. But he also continues to preach the importance of showing confidence in young players still trying to establish themselves in the big leagues.

"I've had a lot of conversations with Danny," Johnson said. "I think he's an unbelievable talent, and if anybody could break one of my records, I said he'd be one of them. And I've explained I have higher expectations of you than probably you do. And he said: 'No, that's not true.' So I know he has the confidence. I know he has the ability. It's really just a matter of time."

Johnson did make one concession tonight, giving rookie Tyler Moore only his second chance to start in the nine games since the first basemanoutfielder was promoted from Class AAA Syracuse.

Moore, who over the last two-plus seasons hit 69 home runs in the minors, started in left field for his big-league debut April 29 in Los Angeles but since then has only come off the bench as a sporadic pinch-hitter or late replacement at first base.

How difficult has that been for a player used to starting on a nightly basis?

"I wouldn't say difficult," Moore said. "It's been a blast being up here. I definitely understand what my role is and what Davey wants to do. And the guys who have been playing have been doing great for us. It's definitely an adjustment, but I see why I'm sitting on the bench."

And where will Moore be tomorrow? With right-hander Kevin Correia starting for the Pirates, will he be back on the bench with Roger Bernadina in left field?

"The proof will be in the pudding," Johnson said. "I'm waiting for two or three of guys to play up to their capabilities. Obviously Espinosa, Bernadina, Xavier Nady. And Tyler Moore is kind of down on the list. These guys need to stand up. And if Tyler has a pretty good game, we'll take it from there."

Quick Links

Game 26: Capitals at Sabres game time, how to watch, open thread

Game 26: Capitals at Sabres game time, how to watch, open thread

Can the Caps beat the Buffalo Sabres for the third time in two weeks? Stream the game via CSNmidatlantic.com/CapitalsStream or tune in to CSN at 6:30 p.m. for coverage. Here is everything you need to know:

What: Washington Capitals at Buffalo Sabres

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: Saturday, 12/3 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

How to Watch: Capitals GameTime airs at 6:30 p.m. followed by Capitals at Sabres on CSN Mid-Atlantic.

When is the Capitals-Sabres game?

The Capitals (15-7-2) play the Buffalo Sabres (10-10-6) Friday at 7:00 p.m. ET.

What channel is the Capitals-Sabres game on?

The Capitals-Sabres game is broadcast on CSN. The coverage of the game begins at 6:30 p.m. with Capitals GameTime. The game begins at 7:00 p.m with Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin. For postgame coverage, stick around for Caps Extra following the game. (CSN channel Finder)

Where can I stream the Capitals-Sabres game?

The Capitals-Sabres game, along with Caps Extra, is available to stream live here on csnmidatlantic.com/CapitalsStream and the NBC Sports app and is available to authenticated CSN Mid-Atlantic subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

What are the lines for the Capitals-Sabres game?

Based on Friday's morning skate, here are the projected lines:

Forwards
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Jakub Vrana
Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Defense
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov
Nate Schmidt - Taylor Chorney

Goalies
Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches
Brett Connolly, Aaron Ness

Capitals vs. Sabres Open Thread

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals Digital Producer JJ Regan and the CSN Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and CSN's Facebook page.

Keep up with all the action here with Capitals GameZone and join in on the conversation here with Capitals Pulse.

Quick Links

Ted Leonsis reaffirms support for Alex Ovechkin's Olympics stance

Ted Leonsis reaffirms support for Alex Ovechkin's Olympics stance

With the NHL's Olympic participation in serious doubt, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis reaffirmed his support Friday of Alex Ovechkin should the team captain choose to leave in the middle of the NHL season to go to the Olympics.

Leonsis addressed Ovechkin's stance at the NHL's Board of Governors meeting.

"He has given a lot to our team and he doesn’t ask for much in return and whatever he likes to do in this one, I’ll support him,” Leonsis said, per Josh Cooper of Puck Daddy. "His mother was an Olympian. It’s a part of the tradition in the family and it is meaningful to him, and he’s kind of the ambassador and captain of the team. We don’t sit and talk about this all the time, but he needs to know, and he does know, that in this one instance I’ll have his back.”

RELATED: Q&A: What to do with Kuznetsov

Leonsis made a similar statement in October when Ovechkin first made clear his intention to play in Pyeongchang.

Ovechkin first stated he would leave to play in Sochi for the 2014 Olympics even if the NHL did not participate. At media day for the World Cup of Hockey, Ovechkin vowed again to leave the Caps midseason in 2018 to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The difference in the two situations is that Olympic participation is not a guarantee in 2018. It seemed very unlikely that the NHL would not play in Sochi considering how many Russian players are in the league.

The outlook for Pyeongchang, however, is much more bleak. Just one month ago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called NHL participation in the 2018 games "unlikely." The NHL recently made an offer to the NHLPA saying they would agree to participation if the players would agree to extending the CBA, an offer the NHLPA rejected.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 bold predictions: Message received?