Johnson embraces lofty expectations for Nats
Manager confident talented team can make run at NL East title
Nationals manager Davey Johnson is not even thinking about winning the National League Wild Card this season. He believes his team can win the NL East title. He has reason to have high expectations.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam LaRoche are expected to be healthy for a full season, while outfielder Jayson Werth and shortstop Ian Desmond are expected to have bounce-back seasons.
It also helps that the Nationals have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, led by Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.
MLB.com caught up with Davey Johnson to talk about the team's expectations this year.
MLB.com: There are a lot of high expectations for this team this year. How do you think the team will do?
Johnson: I love expectations. Expectations are great. That tells you something is going right -- not just from my point of view, but from others. I love being the best. That doesn't scare me at all. I love great expectations. I'm not looking for security here. I'm always looking for an opportunity. It's a great opportunity here in this organization, for the talent in this organization. ... It takes it to another level and it's fun. It's exciting. It gets my motor running. I don't need any coffee to get me going. I looked forward to Spring Training. It's paramount in getting everyone on the same page, getting everything mapped out and having a plan and having them understand my plan and agreeing with my plan. The only pressure I want on those guys is for them to go out and expressing their talent.
MLB.com: Can they compete against the Phillies in the NL East?
W: Clippard (1-0) L: Marmol (0-1)
SV: Lidge (1)
Johnson: No question in my mind. I know one thing: Ted Lerner, the owner, is not a dreamer and I'm not dreaming. The reality is, we should be able to compete toe-to-toe if we do what we are capable of doing. We can beat them. We showed it in matchups late last season. But it's a wonderful opportunity to show yourself and the world that we are pretty good. That's the opportunity that everyone in that room should want.
MLB.com: Entering Opening Day what is your biggest concern regarding the Nationals?
Johnson: You are always concerned about the health. I try to be close with the medical staff, the trainers. A lot of times, I can tell if a guy is getting a little tired and I give them a day off. It's not so much they are physically tired, they are mentally tired and I can generally read it and I can nip it in the bud. That's why a bench is important. You don't want to have a big slip in the talent level you put on the field.
Obviously, your starters are the most talented guys because they can give you more innings, but you don't want to have a big drop-off. So that's critical. It's 25 guys contributing. During Spring Training, you pick 25 guys and know they will be able to contribute in making it a successful year. ... We are going to put our best foot forward. I like the foot we are putting forward. If we don't play up to expectations, it's my fault.
MLB.com: Why do you say that?
Johnson: Because the talent is there. So I have to make sure they are comfortable, they are relaxed and they are ready to do battle on a daily basis. If I do that, most of my players have played up to their potential.
MLB.com: Has general manager Mike Rizzo given you enough players to compete?
Johnson: Oh, yeah, he is great. I think is one of the best GMs in baseball. He surrounds himself with good people, smart people, talented people. He pays attention. He doesn't miss much. He is like the manager and he is the general manager. He has done a great job. I could not ask for anything more.
MLB.com: I'm going to mention some names and you tell me what comes to mind. Let's start with Jayson Werth.
Johnson: Great athlete, gifted talent.
MLB.com: Do you think he'll make a comeback?
Johnson: No doubt in my mind. He had too many distractions last year -- too much pressure put on him. It was very difficult situation last year. He tried to be the veteran presence to everybody. As a manager, I try to make sure there are not a lot of distractions.
MLB.com: Ian Desmond.
Johnson: Great talent. He has been trying to do too much ever since he has been here. He just needs to worry about Ian Desmond and be the best player he can be. He is awfully driven. Too much responsibility was placed on him in the past. He was trying to be someone that he wasn't. I like him as Ian Desmond. Don't try to do too much. Just do what you would normally do and that's awfully good. He is more focused. I love Ian Desmond. He can do no wrong for me. The only time he does wrong is when he starts over-analyzing everything. He puts himself in a bad situation when he does that. And that's part of my job, not to let him do that.
MLB.com: Ryan Zimmerman.
Johnson: Great talent. He leads by example. Fun to watch play. Gifted. He likes challenges. The best player on the ballclub.
MLB.com: If you have had to make a prediction, where would the Nationals rank in the NL East this year?
MLB.com: You are really that confident this team can win the East?
Johnson: Yeah. I'm not dreaming. That's the fun of competing. I like setting a goal and striving forward. All engines running. It doesn't get any better than that. We are going to be better. I would be an idiot to think anything differently.
MLB.com: You want to win that division.
Johnson: Yeah, I want to win the division. That's the goal. That's my benchmark and it's a realistic benchmark.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.