Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson's biggest concern when he talked with reporters this morning was the weather. The 70-year-old skipper said he hoped that 26-year-old lefty Ross Detwiler could get today's start in since Detwiler will be leaving soon to join the US Team in the World Baseball Classic on March 9th, but rain threatened to delay the 1:05 start time of the Nats' Grapefruit League game with the Atlanta Braves. In discussing other topics with reporters, Johnson touched on Wilson Ramos and the catcher's rehab, Chad Tracy and his injured arm and the state of the NL East heading into the 2013 season.
• Update: Detwiler did end up getting to pitch, here's his line:
#Braves get a pair in the 3rd. Final line for Det: 2.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 2 K. 41 pitches, 28 strikes— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 26, 2013
There were several reports this morning that 25-year-old Nats' catcher Wilson Ramos was going to attempt to get some sliding drills in for the first time since undergoing two separate surgeries on his knee to repair a torn ACL and meniscus last summer. Davey Johnson said that Ramos taking that next step was news to him, though it's news the manager has been waiting to hear. "I've been asking, 'When he's going to slide?" Johnson said, "Because he's not going to be able to even DH until he slides and the word I heard is that [team Dr. Wiemi Douoguih] is coming in on [March] 6th and then he would let him know if he could slide."
"That's what I heard today from a man called Lee Kuntz," Johnson said, referring to the team's head athletic trainer. "I haven't even heard that a trainer was going to let him slide," the Nats' manager continued noting the tarp covering the field at the Braves' Spring Home, "although this would be a good tarp right here when it rains to go out there and slide."
Once Ramos takes the next step in his rehab, whenever he does, Johnson said he'll be ready to get some live action in for the first time since the surgeries last summer. "I've said he's game-ready for the last week," Johnson joked, "But what do I know? But there's no major hurry, I mean, as far as I'm concerned, except that he missed all of last year, didn't play winter ball [and] I want him to get him swinging the bat a little bit. But he's swinging the heck out of it in BP. I like his stroke. So, he's very comfortable in his own skin, so I'd rather be on the cautious side with him before he gets involved in games to make sure that doctors -- he feels like he's close -- but if we get the doctors on the same page I'll be ready to let him go run out there."
"I told him, I said, slow as he is he doesn't ever have to slide, he's going to get tagged out in front of the base," Johnson told reporters, but the Nats' skipper then admitted, "That's what I told the trainer, I didn't tell [Ramos]."
Another injured National, Chad Tracy, took a fastball to the arm from Jonathan Albaladejo in Sunday's game against the Miami Marlins. Johnson said Tracy had a day off and he's ready to get back on the field. "Tracy's ready to go," Johnson said, "Of course, he had yesterday off, he didn't do much and then today he said he felt fine. So he'll probably be in the lineup tomorrow."
The talk then turned to the Atlanta Braves the Nationals were set to face for the first time in 2013 this afternoon. Johnson said that though the Nats won the NL East in 2012, the Braves and Phillies have been successful for a long time and will be contenders again this season. "I think Atlanta, their history has been great," Johnson said, "they've always had good young players come along. I thought the last couple of years they had a strong left-handed presence in their lineup and I thought they needed a little more right-handed presence in their lineup, and they certainly did that with the two Upton boys. So I think their lineup is much more balanced."
"I agree with you though," Johnson told a reporter, "They're going to miss [Martin] Prado and they're going to miss Chipper [Jones]. Those two guys, a lot of tools, a lot of talent, and it's more of a balanced lineup." Asked how closely he followed other teams in the division and their offseason moves, Johnson said, "I think you pay attention to all of them. I don't look at anybody as no 'weak sister'. Obviously, Philadelphia and Atlanta, what they've done over the last decade, you have to say those are the teams you've got to beat in the division. But, the other teams, we had our problems with the Marlins last year. I look at all of them as tough competitors."
The Nationals are built to compete for years, however, in their manager's mind, even if he doesn't plan on being around past this season. "The Lerner family has hired really good baseball people in the front office," the Nats' skipper said, "And I think [Mike Rizzo] has done a great job of putting together this group of guys. There's pretty good depth. There's maybe a little bit of a gap, a lot of our young hosses are down at Double-A, but the future is very bright. I mean, there's still an upside to a lot of guys at this level."