Though he wasn't managing in the major leagues, Washington Nationals' Skipper Davey Johnson wasn't away from the game in the eleven years that passed between the time he spent on the bench in LA with the Dodgers and his return in the nation's capital with the Nats as he told 106.7 the Fan's Mike Wise and Holden Kushner in an interview this afternoon. "I've been managing every year since I left the Dodgers in 2000. I've been either managing in Europe for the Dutch Olympic team and as far as making out a lineup, I did that quite a few times not too long ago in the World Baseball Classic. So, I've always been managing every year since I left the big leagues."
Managing is like flying a plane, as the veteran of 15 season on the bench in the majors explained it, "if you've ever piloted an airplane, you can always take five, ten years off and you can get in and get it off the ground and land it," Johnson said, "So that's not a problem. I wasn't in major league condition shape so I can sprint out to second base and argue with an umpire, but I'm working on that and my arm is getting good so I can throw a little extra BP to guys."
The team Johnson's inherited he knows well. "The last two seasons I've been in Spring Training for six weeks, and I got to know a lot of them. I got to know the whole minor league system really. But I have a good feeling about the talent level and I really, really like talent level and I really like the whole organization," Johnson said. "It's really, as far as I'm concerned, an organization that's really moving fast and to the front."
As for the current squad, Johnson said the biggest challenge is getting the team to play up to its potential, "We have some guys, young guys that are establishing in the big leagues that, some of them haven't quite played up to their potential. Basically all of them. And some of the veterans have been trying to carry too much of the load, probably putting too much pressure on themselves, but it's coming around."
"I've seen signs," Johnson said, "where everybody's kind of relaxing and taking care of their business and I look for us to have a great second half."
"We're playing very well," Johnson continued, "We're not scoring as many runs as I'd like to see, but the bullpen has done an outstanding job, the starters have been outstanding. Our offense has been kind of sputtering at times, our defense has been outstanding. It's basically, again, everybody getting comfortable and everybody starting to express that talent that we have here and when we do that this game's a lot of fun."
Asked if there were any particular pieces Johnson thought the team needed to get the offense going, the Nats' Skipper admitted that, as he put it, "Every manager has his idea of what the bench should look like, the perfect bullpen, the perfect bench, but I'm really comfortable with the whole ballclub. There's a few little tweaks here and there that I've discussed with the General Manager, and we're on the same page, and so, we've got our work cut out for us. Everybody needs to step it up a notch and I think we're fully ready to do that."
The Manager's diagnosis of what's wrong with Jayson Werth? "I think he came over here and he had a lot of other things that, you know attitudes, with trying to get that winning attitude over here," Johnson said, "and I think he had a lot on his shoulders. New contract. New club. And I think his focus can get a little off and you can try too hard, but I'm not worried about him, he showed signs the last week he was with the ballclub, and he's looked good at the workout yesterday. I think he's going to be fine, he's going to get comfortable and I think he's going to have a big second-half."
Johnson, who worked with Stephen Strasburg when both were with Team USA in 2008, said in the interview that he thought the Nats' soon-to-turn 23-year-old right-hander could still make it back late this season. "I'm really excited. I hear his progress is coming along great. He's throwing the ball real well and he hasn't had any setbacks to speak of, and I look for him some time late in the year, maybe in September."
"Of course [Jordan] Zimmermann went through the same thing in about the same time frame and he came back in September, and he's throwing the ball exceptionally well this year. He's arguably one of our best pitchers, so I really feel like Stephen's going to do the same thing. He's going to come up here and throw the ball exceptionally well and next year he'll even be better."
"We're not trying to accelerate anything," Johnson added, "If anything we're being as conservative as possible. So it's going to basically be up to [Stephen] Strasburg and he is chomping at the bit and I know he wants to accelerate it, but we're sitting on him pretty good." As for the Nats' second of two consecutive no.1 overall picks, Bryce Harper, the Nationals' manager said, "I've known him since he was 15. I handed him a trophy for hitting the longest HR in that USA HR contest between, I think there were 15-to-18-year-olds competing...he hit one like 500ft. I guess that was with an aluminum bat, but he looked good then and he looks great now."
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"I predicted that when he was 19 he'd get some quality at bats in the big leagues," Davey Johnson said, "so probably some time maybe toward the middle or the end next year, he probably can get some at bats up here."
Before the interview ended, Johnson was asked about the Orioles that he managed in 1996-97, and Baltimore owner Peter Angelos' contention that there were no real baseball fans in D.C. "When I came to Baltimore," Johnson said, "They were only filling the stadium about half up. It's all about winning. When you put a good product on the field, fans love to see a winner. And that's what we plan to do here in Washington. I think the Baltimore/Washington is a hotbed for baseball."