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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Twins double up Orioles Monday night after erasing Baltimore's early lead

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USA Today Sports

Twins double up Orioles Monday night after erasing Baltimore's early lead

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore.

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It was his 125th home run at Camden Yards, moving him out of a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for the most in the history of the 26-year-old ballpark.

That proved to be the highlight of an otherwise ugly night for the Orioles.

Jimenez frittered away a five-run lead and missed a chance to earn his first win since April 19. The right-hander allowed six runs and nine hits in four-plus innings, a performance that lifted his ERA to an unsightly 7.17.

Jimenez was replaced by Tyler Wilson (2-2), who gave up six runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Down 5-0, the Twins got an RBI groundout from Mauer in third before Kepler led off the fourth with a home run.

It was 6-2 before Minnesota bunched together five hits in the fifth. After Kepler chased Jimenez with a two-run double, Eduardo Escobar hit a sacrifice fly and Polanco tied it with an RBI single.

Highlights of the Twins' sixth inning included a tiebreaking double by Mauer, a two-run double by Escobar, an error by second baseman Jonathan Schoop and a run-inducing balk when Stefan Crichton dropped the ball in the midst of his windup.

Recalled from Triple-A Rochester before the game, Gibson gave up six runs in five innings, but nevertheless earned his first victory in seven starts this season.

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Jay Gruden views Chris Thompson as the NFL's best third-down running back

Jay Gruden views Chris Thompson as the NFL's best third-down running back

In 2016, Chris Thompson simply needed to prove to Jay Gruden that he could handle 16 NFL games.

Now, looking ahead to 2017, the fifth-year running back hopes to show his head coach he can shoulder 16 NFL games and a larger workload.

"I have a feeling that I might get a little more this year," Thompson said Monday at the Redskins Charitable Golf Foundation. "[Gruden] knows now that I'm healthy and I can stay healthy, which I think that was one of his biggest concerns. So now he sees that I can handle the load, I think that I'll get a lot more opportunities this year."

Last season was by far the best in the 26-year-old's career. He played a full slate of games after playing in just 19 over his first three seasons combined, and he set career highs in rushing attempts (68), yards (356), receptions (49), receiving yards (349) and total touchdowns (5).

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He also held up well in pass protection, a key duty for him as the team's third-down running back. And it's all of those qualities — being able to contribute on handoffs and with catches while also providing help in keeping Kirk Cousins upright — that make him an excellent fit for a popular NFL duty.

The most excellent in that duty, actually, if you ask Gruden. 

"I think Chris Thompson's role is big," he said. "When you're talking about third downs, that's the most important down in football. There's nobody better as a third-down back in my opinion than Chris. He's got a huge role on this football team." 

Gruden went on to indicate that an increase in Thompson's responsibilities is likely coming, though No. 25 will still do the majority of his work when the offense needs him most.

"Whether he does some more stuff on first- and second-down will be determined," he said. "I'm sure he will. But he's so valuable on third-down that I gotta keep him in that role for now."

A 2013 fifth-round pick who came into the league with a history of injuries, Thompson has now fully gained the trust of his coaches and teammates. The 5-foot-8 running back may be small in stature, but the Redskins know he's not small in importance.  

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