Dusty Baker invited former Washington Nationals' first baseman Nick Johnson to visit the Nats in Spring Training as a special instructor early this Spring. Baker explained that the idea came to him after he ran into the former National and the idea seemed like a good one.
"He's from my home town," the 66-year-old skipper explained. "I knew him, but I knew his uncle Larry Bowa better and then we were in an 'establishment' ... at the same time and it just came to me, and I said man, I think -- because the real good organizations that I've been in, they have some history, which we don't have much here and especially I thought back to my Dodger days, there was [Roy] Campanella, there was [Don] Newcombe there was Sandy Koufax, there was all these greats in camp that if they could say one thing to help a kid figure it out, I mean just one pitch, or one theory on how to hit a curveball or whatever, I've seen it turn people's careers around.
"I know Nick was popular here. He was a very good player. He could also tell people the ups and downs and what it's like to get injured and [have] your career [cut] short, and I just thought that Nick would be -- and to talk to Zim about playing first base or talk to the kids about hitting and I just thought it just fit. And then I asked permission of [Nats' GM Mike Rizzo]. It's easy to spend somebody else's money. I can do that real good."
Johnson, who played for Washington from 2005-2009, putting up a .280/.408/.460 line with 121 doubles and 56 HRs in 487 games and 2,041 PAs, spent a week in camp with the Nats and visited with MLB Network Radio's Jody McDonald and Kevin Kennedy this afternoon to share his thoughts on what he saw while he was working with the Nationals.
Talking to Ryan Zimmerman about first base: "I talked to Zim a little bit over at first. Gave him some -- just some little things around the base that might help or maybe he's never thought of... but he's going to catch the ball, but there [are] little things that go on in the game over at first that -- maybe just try to put in his ear and maybe he liked it, maybe he didn't, I don't know."
Is Zim resigned to move over to first?: "I think so. I mean, they've got a great third baseman over there in [Anthony] Rendon. The key is just to stay healthy and stay on the field, [Zimmerman] is going to hit."
What did/can you teach about approach?: "It was my first time being on the other side and not being a player, so I just was there and if guys wanted to pick my brain about hitting -- there were a few guys that talked about approach and what I did, how I did it. Some guys, we talked about it, but I just left it up to them and I was just there if they had any questions to throw them off me if I could help."
Bryce Harper's pitch recognition: "He goes pretty hard at the ball, but he's getting it done, he's a great player, but I was watching him just, pitcher's practice, early on, first couple games, it's amazing how quick he can see the ball out of the hand and know it's a ball. It was really fun to watch him work and just how quick he sees it and knows it's out of the zone is really special."
Davey Lopes: "Davey Lopes, I've had him, in Washington early on and I think he's really going to help. He's probably one of the smartest baseball people I've been around. Just picking things up. They're going to really enjoy having him over at first.
Nick Johnson on Trea Turner: "They've got some young guys that are close, or who knows, they might -- that Trea Turner kid looks pretty good in just the ten days I was there. They've got some special people in that room to do good things..."
Nationals' chances in the NL East? Two-team race with the Mets?: "Yeah, I think so. It's going to be those two teams going down, and I think the key is keeping your guys healthy and on the field and whoever does that the best their talent is going show on the field."