PHOENIX — It seemed like an innocent enough question for Davey Johnson: Who is going to start the Nationals’ season finale on Sunday?
“Well,” the manager replied, “that depends on Gio.”
Thus began a long-winded and convoluted explanation that didn’t answer the question with any level of certainty, other than to reveal either Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark will be on the mound at Chase Field.
How, and when, will that decision be made? Well, it may depend on Gonzalez’s desire to reach the 200-inning and 200-strike plateau this season. It may also depend on Johnson’s desire to finish his managerial career at least 300 games over the .500 mark.
Yeah, this one needs some explanation.
At this start of this road trip, Johnson realized his career managerial record was 1,370-1,067. If the Nationals won only two of their final six games, he’d ensure a final mark that was at least 300 games over .500.
But then they got swept in St. Louis, so now the Nationals need to win at least twice against the Diamondbacks this weekend to secure that mark.
“I made it known to them that I’d like to finish the season on a winning note,” Johnson said. “And also, just a sidebar, I was 303 [games over .500] and I wanted to stay 300 over for my career. Like guys have 20 stolen bases, 20 homers; 300 sounds like a good number. Maybe we could get that.
“So I said that to some of the guys. I said: ‘Can we win a couple games?’ And Gio knows it. So I think if we win a couple, he’ll go home. If 1-1, he’ll take the ball. So it’s kind of complicated and stupid.”
It’s definitely complicated. We’ll let you decide if it’s stupid. Suffice it to say, Johnson was suggesting that if the Nationals win the first two games of this series, thereby securing the .300-games-over mark, Gonzalez wouldn’t pitch on Sunday and Roark would make the start. If, however, the Nationals need to win that game, Gonzalez would get the ball.
At the same time, Gonzalez is only 4 1/3 innings shy of 200, a plateau he’s reached only twice before. He also needs eight strikeouts to finish with 200 for the second straight season.
So the lefty suggested to his manager he may go ahead and pitch five innings and try to strike out at least eight batters in the process.
In the end, it appears Johnson will leave this decision up to Gonzalez, even if it prevents him from finishing his managerial career with a nice, round number attached to his name.
“It’s that time of year when you accommodate everybody,” Johnson said. “I try to accommodate everybody all year, and this is a little accommodation for me. I don’t care. Really, I don’t care. But I put my two cents in.”