March 14, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson (right) talks to shortstop Ian Desmond (left) about batting during batting practice before the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
In 1988, Davey Johnson was in the fifth season of his first major league managing gig, having won the World Series with the New York Mets just two years earlier. In '88 Chris "Mad Dog" Russo was the "Imus in the Morning" show's sports reporter on 660 WFAN in NY. Russo was then a year away from starting the Mike and the Mad Dog show, which would become one of the biggest sports talk shows in the country. Johnson would be fired by the Mets forty-two games into the 1990 season. The Mad Dog would remain with WFAN in NY for 20 years before leaving to start his own sports-talk channel on Sirius/XM radio in 2008. On Monday afternoon the two men met again for what was apparently the first time since the late '80's-early 90's to talk about Davey's new managing gig before the Nationals took on the Mets in Grapefruit League action at the Mets' Spring home in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Asked by the Sirius/XM host what it was about the Nationals that convinced Johnson to return to the bench in the majors eleven years after he'd last managed (with the Dodgers from 1999-2000), the now-69-year-old Johnson told the host, "Well, I really liked the talent in the organization, I liked the make-up and I liked [GM Mike] Rizzo and his whole staff and after I got to manage them a little bit I liked them even more. So, as a consultant when the year was over, I recommended they keep me," Johnson joked.
The Nationals' manager announced this morning that 23-year-old right-handed '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg would be the Nats' Opening Day starter on April 5th in Chicago when they take on the Cubs. Johnson gave the Mad Dog a rundown of some of the talent on the Nationals' roster last night, describing as Strasburg, "... something special," and adding, "He reminds me a lot of Dwight Gooden. He's got a great arm. He's a great pitcher. He's been just getting in shape this Spring but he's looking great." Discussing the decision to send 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper to Triple-A to start the season, Johnson said, "I told him when I sent him out, I said, 'Look, Bryce. Guys like Chris Russo will be badmouthing me if you go 1 for 15, that I didn't get you more at bats in the minor leagues,' so I said, 'I don't want him doing that, so that's one of the reasons I'm sending you out. I want you to go down there, tear'em up and then when I call you up I won't have ever have to send you down [again]."
In discussing how the Nationals would use Strasburg in 2012 in his first full-year back from Tommy John surgery, Johnson reiterated that, "He's going to be like [Jordan] Zimmermann was last year. We held him to 150-160 innings and Zimmermann at the end of last year was probably throwing as good as anybody on my staff. We found out, people who are smarter than me have done test studies and feel it's better to shut him down early than let him go on."
Asked to diagnose Jayson Werth's woes in 2011, the Nats' manager said, "I think he was trying to do too much, coming from Philadelphia, he wanted to get everybody in the mindset to win a championship, [but] we weren't ready last year. My philosophy is take care of no.1, don't worry about anything else, those are my problems. [Werth] has looked good this Spring, I look for him to bounce back and have a great year." As for the team as a whole, and their offensive issues across the roster, Johnson explained, "One of the things we did last year, we weren't a good fastball hitting club. Even [former Met under Johnson and current Mets announcer] Keith Hernandez mentioned, he came in the clubhouse [and said], 'You guys have an aversion to the fastball,' and we've been getting after the fastball this Spring, so I'm pleased where everyone's at really, and I think this year's going to be a lot different than last year offensively."
The Nationals enter the 2012 season with expectations unlike anything the nation's capital's Nats have experienced since moving to Washington in 2005. "How about this team handling that, Davey?" the Mad Dog asked Johnson. "It's a young team still," Johnson responded, "And last year we didn't have any veteran presence on the ballclub, but as a baseball man, I look at the potential, the upside of everybody. If we just play to our potential, we don't have to play over it. If guys start doing things I know they're capable of doing, I think we can win the pennant."