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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5 must-see moments from Wizards' loss to Sixers

5 must-see moments from Wizards' loss to Sixers

Here are five plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 120-112 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night that are worth revisiting...

1. These are in chronological order, but the first highlight from this game is the best one of the night.

John Wall pulled off one of his best dunks of the season, a reverse slam with his left hand. Wall was fouled on the play and knocked down the free throw:

Wall finished with 29 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds.

2. Bradley Beal was the star on an otherwise disappointing night for the Wizards. He dropped 40 points for the fourth time this season. Two of his points came on this stepback jumper that looked like a three-pointer at first:

3. Here's more of Beal. This time he stole a pass and threw it down on the other end:

4. Marcin Gortat had another solid night with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Here was his best play of the night, a two-handed putback slam on a Wall miss:

5. Friday was Bojan Bogdanovic's first game with the Wizards since getting traded to them on Wednesday from the Brooklyn Nets. He was limited to just two points in 18 minutes. And those two points came on a goaltending call:

It just wasn't the Wizards' night, on the court or off of it. In this clip Jason Smith is left hanging on a handshake attempt. Poor Jason:

As mentioned above, Beal had another great game. He just didn't get much help.

[RELATED: Ian Mahinmi leaves Wizards loss to Sixers with back injury]

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The Capitals will be shorthanded again in Nashville on Saturday

The Capitals will be shorthanded again in Nashville on Saturday

The three Capitals who sat out Friday’s 2-1 win over the Oilers will also miss Saturday’s game against the Predators, Coach Barry Trotz said.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, both suffering from lower body injuries, and winger T.J. Oshie, who has an upper body ailment, did not travel accompany the team to Nashville.

The plan, according to Trotz, is for the three injured players to join the team on the second leg of the road trip. The Caps are scheduled to practice at the Devils’ home rink on Monday afternoon before heading to New York to face the Rangers on Tuesday.  

“We didn’t want to rush anything,” Trotz said. “We didn’t know on Brooks really until this afternoon.”

Trotz added: “We said, ‘Let’s not rush anything. We’re in a good spot. Let’s get everyone healthy.’”

RELATED: Kuznetsov shuts down McDavid as Caps continue streak at home

Niskanen suffered an apparent left leg injury Wednesday night in a collision with Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas. The first sign that something was bothering Orpik came Thursday when he missed practice.  Oshie, meanwhile, remains sore after absorbing a couple of big blows in Philadelphia.

All three players are officially listed as day-to-day.

Friday’s game against Connor McDavid and the surging Oilers marked the first bit of injury-related adversity the Caps have experienced this season.

It didn’t faze them.

A blue line that including seventh defenseman Taylor Chorney and minor league call-up Aaron Ness helped limit McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, to a secondary assist and just one shot on goal in 21:42 of ice time.

Meanwhile, prospect Riley Barber made his NHL debut with Oshie sidelined. Barber recorded two shots on goal in 9:56 of ice time.

Washington's lineup will likely remain unchanged against P.K. Subban and the Predators, who have earned a point in three straight games (2-0-1). 

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