STL@WSH: Johnson on quiet offense, expectations

WASHINGTON -- Before Thursday's game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson thought he was going to watch first baseman Adam LaRoche take early batting practice on the field at 3:30 p.m. ET at Nationals Park, but Johnson was surprised to see as many nine players taking early batting practice, which was a good sign as far as Johnson was concerned.

Entering Thursday's action, the Nationals were near the bottom of the National League in offense and Johnson decided to add a spark by placing Steve Lombardozzi second and Jayson Werth fourth in the batting order, while putting Anthony Rendon on the bench.

Lombardozzi had been productive coming off the bench this season, going 10-for-29 (.345) with three RBIs entering Thursday's action. When second baseman Danny Espinosa was out of the lineup because of a hand injury last week, Lombardozzi went 7-for-21 (.333) with three RBIs.

Asked why Lombardozzi was playing third base instead of second base, Johnson said he still believes in Espinosa, who is off to a slow start, going 9-for-58 (.155) with a home run and three RBIs.

"We need to get Espinosa going. It's his birthday [Thursday]," Johnson said. "My main concern is to get guys going."

Johnson said he takes full responsibility for the losses and goes to be bed late at night trying to figure out how to help the team win.

"I think I'm not doing what I need to do to make it more comfortable for guys," Johnson said. "With this group, it more about waiting for everybody getting comfortable. … Waiting for all that to start feeling more relaxing for guys to get quality at-bats.

"Rather than throwing the whole bench in the lineup and a bunch of different things, which I call over-managing, let [most of the regulars] go play. They are all so motivated anyway, it's almost like I don't want to push them. It's always baseball season. I'm always up in the middle of the night trying to dream up something. I like the ballclub. It's such a long haul."

Rizzo most surprised by slow start on defense

WASHINGTON -- General manager Mike Rizzo said he is not concerned about the slow start the Nationals are off to. The Nationals were 10-11 entering Thursday's series opener against the Reds.

"I'm not concerned about the team that we have. It's constructed the way we wanted it to be constructed," Rizzo said. "We have guys who have been through it before. So they know how to weather these storms. They've all had slumps in the past. We've gone 10-11 during stretches a lot of times during the season. This is a little bump, and we have to play a little better."

Rizzo said he is surprised by how the defense is playing. Entering Thursday's action, the Nationals were 30th in the Major Leagues in defense. But he believes it will get better.

"We've come out of the gate slow, defensively," Rizzo said. "That's probably the thing that surprises me the most, but I think it's a short-term effect. We have [a lot of good athletes] that have good defensive histories."

One of the players off to a slow start is shortstop Ian Desmond, who leads the team with seven errors.

"He has made some great plays, he had some tough chances. I think as the weather warms up, he is going to warm up, he is going to play defense like he played last year," Rizzo said.

Worth noting

• Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos will begin a rehab assignment Friday for Double-A Harrisburg. He most likely will be off the disabled list by the time the team starts a four-game series in Atlanta against the Braves on Monday.