WASHINGTON — Over the last week, the struggling Washington Nationals have fired their hitting coach and demoted the team’s former closer. Whatever changes the organization makes over the remainder of the 2013 season, removing manager Davey Johnson from his post will not be one of them.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says there’s “no chance that he won’t be the manager until the end of the season.”
Washington is in second place, but sports a frustrating 51-54 record and was 8.5 games behind Atlanta entering Sunday’s game against the New York Mets.
“We’re in the midst of trying to assess that,” Rizzo said. “I think we still have two months to figure it out and we’ll assess it throughout the rest of the season and come up with a battle plan in the offseason to try and remedy that.”
Rizzo maintains it’s unlikely the Nationals will make a splashy move before the trading deadline.
“If we could tweak and improve at certain spots on the bench, I think that could be one place we would attack,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got ourselves a pretty talented group of guys that we’re committed too. We like where we’re at.”
Of his working relationship with Johnson, Rizzo said, “I think it’s great. I love Davey and respect him. I think he feels the same way.”
Washington has won three of four games with two victories coming on walk-off home runs, but the Nationals have dropped seven of 10 overall. In between the pair of dramatic wins, the emotional run included an 11-0 loss to the Mets in Friday’s opening game.
After Drew Storen allowed three runs in 2-3 of an inning in the blowout, the Nationals sent their former closer and first-round pick to Triple-A Syracuse. The right-hander is 3-2 with two saves and a career-worst 5.95 ERA in 47 games.
“We felt that he was struggling, struggling with his mechanics, with his tempo, with his delivery, with his arm slot,” Rizzo said of Storen, adding the demoting decision came before the latest outing. “We felt we would do him better by letting go down to a less stressful situation. Work on his mechanics, get it fixed, get back up here and help us.”
Storen had 47 saves for the Nationals in 2011 and posted a 2.37 ERA during an injury-riddled 2012 campaign. Last season ended with Storen melting down in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series, blowing a two-run lead and the game against St. Louis.
Washington signed veteran closer Rafael Soriano during the offseason, moving Storen into a setup role.
Asked if that demotion in the bullpen pecking order affected Storen’s mentality, Rizzo said, “I don’t see the reason why it should have. He’s a mentally strong person with good stuff. We we’re getting an established closer with a great track record. We felt there was another guy that added depth and power to the end of the bullpen.”
Following the doubleheader, reliever Tyler Clippard was not pleased by his close friend’s demotion.
“You know, you basically send a guy a message this offseason for having one bad game that he’s not the guy for the job. He’s only human. It’s going to get to anybody,” Clippard said.
“His opinion means a lot to me,” Rizzo said of Clippard, with whom he spoke with before Saturday’s game. “I disagree with his assessment of the situation, but you fight to the death to let them speak their mind and say what they want.”
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