Johnson grapples with lineup decisions

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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."

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Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals have quickly gotten the sour taste of their recent four-game skid out of their mouths.

Thanks to a resurgent offense and a quality start by Gio Gonzalez, Washington got back on track with Friday’s 8-2 win over the Rockies, the Nats’ second win in as many days.

True to form, the power-laden lineup didn’t take long to strike. Jayson Werth launched a solo home run, his second in as many days and his 18th of the season, to put Washington up 1-0 in the first inning, and scored again in the third on an RBI groundout by Daniel Murphy.

With the game tied 2-2 in the fourth inning, the Nats wouldn’t create breathing room until the middle innings. The Nats took a lead they wouldn’t surrender when they scored two runs on a Jose Lobaton fielder’s choice in the fourth inning, followed by a Murphy solo home run in the fifth to make it 4-2.

From there, the game was blown open in the seventh inning thanks to a four-spot that was highlighted by an RBI double by Werth and a two-run triple by Bryce Harper that nearly left the ballpark.

The Rockies closed the gap to 8-5 on a Nick Hundley three-run home run in the ninth off Shawn Kelley, so Dusty Baker turned to Mark Melancon to notch the final out and secure the victory.  

What it means: The Nats have won back to back games and have raised their record to 75-53. Pending the result of the Miami Marlins game, Washington could be up nine games in the NL East by the end of the night.

Gonzalez notches win No. 100: The lefty starter wasn’t dominant by any means, but he did what Baker wanted him to do: keep his pitch count down and avoid the big inning. Gonzalez allowed two earned runs on four hits over six innings and 85 pitches, and limited the damage every time the Rockies were threatening. He could have easily gone deeper in the game, but Baker opted to pinch hit for him when the Nats had two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth. Regardless, the performance was good enough to earn Gonzalez the 100th victory of his career. 

Murphy’s milestone: With his 25th home run of the season, a fifth-inning solo shot, Murphy notched his 500th career RBI. It’s a remarkable achievement considering that he currently has 98 RBI on the season, which means roughly a fifth of the runs he’s driven in have come in 2016.

Bryce back? Don’t look now, but Harper is looking very much like the reigning NL MVP these days. He added two more extra-base hits Friday night, including his first triple of the season, and is now hitting an even .400 since his return from a neck injury. His season average has suddenly risen to .254, and with the way he’s going, could get to .260 by the end of the weekend.

Up next: The middle game of this three-game set will take place Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. as the Nats send A.J. Cole (0-1, 5.14 ERA) to oppose Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07 ERA).

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Gallardo doesn't make it through 2 as Orioles lose 14-4

Gallardo doesn't make it through 2 as Orioles lose 14-4

NEW YORK—Yovani Gallardo allowed eight runs in the shortest start of his career. Adam Jones was no longer on the field by the time Gallardo departed with one out in the second inning. 

It was an all-around ugly night for the Orioles in the Bronx. 

Since the last time the Orioles were here, on July 21, the Yankees have made major changes to their team, and their new look guys overwhelmed the Orioles 14-4 before 38,423 at Yankee Stadium on Friday night. 

Jones left the game in the second inning with a strained left hamstring. 

Gallardo (4-6) has won just one of his last 11 starts, and this one was lost early when Mark Teixeira hit a two-run home run in the first inning, and six runs scored in the second. 

At one point, nine consecutive New York hitters reached. 

Gallardo got the first out of the second, and then allowed a single to Chase Headley and walked Aaron Judge. Ronald Torreyes’ fly ball to center was dropped by Nolan Reimold, playing in place of Jones. 

Brett Gardner singled to drive in two. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with an RBI single, and Gary Sanchez doubled for two more. After Vance Worley replaced Gallardo, Teixeira’s single gave New York (66-61) an 8-1 lead. 

Gallardo worked just 1 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs, seven earned on six hits. 

Worley allowed two-run home runs to Chase Headley in the fourth and Sanchez in the fifth. 

Sanchez, the hot rookie catcher who assumed the job from Brian McCann at the trading deadline, has reeled off 10 home runs in 22 career games. He’s the first Yankees rookie to hit 10 homers in a month. 

Manny Machado hit his 30th home run in the first off Luis Cessa (4-0). That home run gave the Orioles (70-58) three 30 home run hitters for the first time in team history. 

Machado added his 31st home run in the sixth, a two-run home run to cut New York’s lead to 12-3. 

Cessa allowed three runs on five hits in six innings. 

Mike Wright allowed two runs in the seventh on a run-scoring double by Torreyes and an RBI single by Gardner. 

Jonathan Schoop’s RBI single in the ninth gave the Orioles their fourth run.

NOTES: The 10-run margin of defeat equaled the largest of the season. The Orioles have allowed 10 or more runs in three of their past eight games. …  Dylan Bundy (7-4, 3.33) faces Chad Green (2-3, 3.66) on Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. 

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Kirk Cousins recovers from sloppy first quarter, throws three TD's against Bills

Kirk Cousins recovers from sloppy first quarter, throws three TD's against Bills

FEDEX FIELD - Kirk Cousins' night is likely over and the Redskins quarterback experienced a tale of two quarters. He struggled early, but recovered well, going 12 of 23 for 188 yards and three touchdowns to go with one interception. 

One week after a surprise healthy scratch against the Jets, Cousins looked rusty early in the game against Buffalo. The Redskins first drive ended when Cousins threw a ball late to the outside and the result was an interception. In fact, in the first quarter, Cousins completed just three of nine passes for 17 yards to go with the pick.

In the second quarter, Cousins and the 'Skins offense started clicking. The Redskins QB connected on a deep ball to DeSean Jackson, who made a few nifty moves to add yards after the catch. A few plays later, Cousins found Ryan Grant and the receiver also made a nice move, veering in towards the goal post from the sideline, en route to the end zone.

On their next possession, Cousins and the Redskins offense did not look great, but the Bills defense handed the Skins opportunity after opportunity with repeated penalties. Eventually, Cousins made them pay, hooking up on a 20-yard touchdown to tight end Jordan Reed.

After a late fumble recovery by Greg Toler, Cousins got one more possession with less than two minutes in the second quarter. Despite a few more penalties marring the pace of the game, Cousins found Pierre Garçon in the corner of the end zone for a TD with 31 seconds left in the half. 

Not a bad night for Kirk - three TDs in one quarter, thrown to three different receivers. At the half, the Redskins lead the Bills 21-6.

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