NL Manager of the Year Davey Johnson talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on Wednesday about what the Washington Nationals need to do this offseason and what they did on the way to the NL East title last season.
Oh, I know, I know. Another post about a Davey Johnson interview? But (it's just the start of a long winter) and the Washington Nationals' 69-year-old skipper did have some interesting things to say about the Nats' plans for 2013 when he talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern yesterday. Par exemple? The Nats' manager talked about the bullpen and predicted that he'd get a big year from Henry Rodriguez after the pitcher impressed everyone last Spring and for a time this season before he started to struggle, left the lineup and eventually had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
"Let me tell you something," Johnson said, "Henry Rodriguez is going to come back. He had bone chips in his elbow. When he's right, he had more command, Jim, than any pitcher I had on the staff in Spring."
"Really?" Bowden asked.
"Oh, no doubt," Johnson said forcefully, "I mean, he didn't throw a ball. And everything was 98-100[mph]. And then the workload caught up to him, and then when he starts getting a little pain, and he wouldn't tell anybody. And so he got a little wild and then he got it fixed, and he's going to be great. But Drew Storen? He's outstanding. [Tyler] Clippard? Outstanding. I hope we get Sean Burnett back. A guy that goes under the radar? Ryan Mattheus? Great arm. I don't need to go out and get a bullpen guy. We've got a lot of bullpen guys."
"And Christian Garcia," Johnson continued, "I like him in the starting rotation. He's got great stuff. He's got as good [of] stuff as Edwin Jackson. So, the one thing we need over the winter? Adam LaRoche. We need him back."
Asked about free agent outfielder Michael Bourn, and whether or not the Nats' manager had interest, Johnson told the MLB Network's Mr. Stern, "It depends on Adam LaRoche. I need a middle of the lineup left-hand bat. But Bryce Harper is going to be my center fielder and probably [Michael] Morse in left and [Jayson] Werth in right." But it all depends upon what happens with LaRoche. Johnson went on to say that he simply likes what the Nationals have now, most of them returning after Washington won 98 games and the NL East last season.
"We didn't do anything at the deadline," Johnson said, referring to the 2011 Trade Deadline, "We didn't need to. I've got two guys that, if anybody in baseball is smart, they'd come after. [Steve] Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore. They're two great players. I don't know if they're sleeping... but they're two great players. I know they're not sleeping, because Bo Porter called me, he's the new Houston manager, and he said, 'Will you guys trade me Tyler Moore?' [and] I said, 'Forget it, no chance.' But, these young guys we had in the organization, they came up and they saved us..."
Bryce Harper came up when a series of injuries hurt the Nats' outfield and along with Lombardozzi and Moore provided some much needed support to keep the Nationals going throughout the 2012 campaign. Though there were some concerns around baseball about bringing the 19-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick up as soon as Washington did, Davey Johnson said he had no doubt that Harper was ready for the challenge.
"You just have to have patience with young guys," Johnson said, "And they did it. They actually won it for us. We had some veterans that were out and the young guys actually won it for us." As for Harper, in particular, the Nats' skipper said he's been fortunate to work with young players like him, Dwight Gooden back when he managed New York and even Stephen Strasburg when both Johnson and the pitcher were with the 2008 US Olympic team. But Harper's special.
"Bryce is an unbelievable talent," the manager said, "But when you compare a young hitter, when a young hitter can hit a breaking ball and a fastball and he knows the difference between the strike zone and lays off pitches out of the strike zone then he's a major league hitter. I don't care if he's 16. And that's what [Harper] could do. You compare him to Dwight Gooden. Dwight had a great fastball, great curve ball and he threw it in the strike zone. So he was a major league pitcher, but the thing about Bryce Harper that separates him from most guys. He's driven. He is driven to succeed."
"And he put himself in that slump this season," Johnson added, "Because what happened [was] he was doing pretty good and he wanted to do better, so he tried harder. And they kind of baited him. They didn't throw anything over and he chased. And then he realized he was making a mistake. He made adjustments. He's a smart young man for 19, and he's going to only get better."