Toward the end of his final season on the bench in the nation's capital, Davey Johnson told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies that though he wasn't done with the game, he thought it was the right time to move on from the Washington Nationals. "I love baseball," the 70-year-old former major league infielder told the show's hosts. "I love the Nationals organization. I think they've done a great job. And I think that it's time for them to move forward, get a young energetic young man in there."
The young man the Nats chose was 47-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks' third base coach Matt Williams.
"'I think that’s a good choice,'" Johnson told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. "'He’s more fiery, like [GM] Mike [Rizzo] likes. I was probably too laid-back for him. I think it’s good.'" As the outgoing skipper explained on the way out, he thought he was leaving the team in a good place.
"I like where the organization is," Johnson told The Sports Junkies. "I think it's going to be in an even stronger position next year. I think a lot of our young pitchers are going to be knocking on the door up here, young starters. We've got some really capable left-handed starters that are coming. I like where the organization is at. They've got pretty good depth in outfield and infield and behind the plate, so it's a good time for me to ride off into the sunset."
Rizzo talked to ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro last month, before Williams was announced as the Nats' sixth manager since 2005, about why the opportunity created by Johnson's departure was unique. "Usually when there's a change in managers, it's usually because of a problem," Rizzo explained. "A disappointing season, a losing roster, teams that are really struggling. And there [are] usually a lot of losses tacked on to a manager getting fired. It's not the case here."
"'He’s coming into a good situation,'" Johnson told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore last week.
"'The bench will be in better shape and the bullpen will be in better shape. He’ll have better options than I had last year. I’m happy for him.'" Rizzo told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, in a late-season conversation that he thinks there are a few things that need to be tweaked. "'We’ll probably look to improve the bullpen,'" Rizzo said, "see if we can improve the bench a little bit. And any other way that we can improve the everyday lineup, if there’s any way we can do that, we’ll certainly look into that also."
As the Nationals' General Manager explained this week in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier, he doesn't think major changes are needed in order for the roster they have in place to compete for a postseason berth and more as they were expected to this season. "We feel that we like the club that we have," Rizzo said. "We're certainly going to try to upgrade the roster and fill some needs that we feel that we have. We're in the position here that we like the ballclub that we have. We think it's a contender for championships and we're going to continue in our march to get the ultimate prize and that's to win the World Series."
Matt Williams, in his introductory press conference, said everyone on the team is working towards the same goal of being where the Red Sox and Cardinals were last week. "It's very close to that here," Williams said. "It's close."
In an interview on The Drive with Cooley and Czabe on ESPN980 on Friday, the Nats' new skipper talked about what he thought went wrong for the Nationals in 2013. "I think it's many-fold. One: There were some serious injuries early on where guys missed a significant amount of time. So, that's a big factor. We have to look at that I think and understand that at any given time there was a major part of the offense certainly that was out of the lineup for an extended period. But, beyond that, I don't know if there was anything wrong. This is a team that won more games than anybody else the year before, and struggled through some times last year."
With some changes, and a different approach to some aspects of the game, Williams said, the Nationals can get back to the postseason again. "What we can do to improve," the first-time major league manager said, "We've got a lot of ideas about that. So, one, I think we can improve defensively, certainly, there's room for improvement there and I think we have a plan that we'll put together to do that. I think we can do a little bit more on the basepaths. Speaking with Randy Knorr and with Mike Rizzo and the rest of the coaching staff. we talked about that as a priority. Going first-to-third, certainly, taking advantage of the opportunities to steal some bases. So a little more aggressive on the basepaths, I think. So we look to those two things first and foremost."
The new manager said he's happy with the team he's inherited. "Definitely have depth in the pitching staff and the front of the rotation is fantastic," Williams said. "We need to find back end of the rotation guys. Tanner Roark has stepped up. Got some guys that are on the verge. So, I think everything looks promising and we're anxious to get started."
The Nationals ended the year playing like the team the Nats' GM thought he assembled for Davey Johnson's last run. Now Rizzo has to see what he can give Williams to work with in his first.
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