03/06/2013 7:35 PM ET
Davey entertains with stories of Spring Training past
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The trip from Viera to the Phillies' Spring Training complex here isn't a quick one, Davey Johnson reconfirmed Wednesday morning. A full-time Florida resident, Johnson became traffic-trapped as he approached Tampa on Route 4 en route to the complex. And he assumed the Nationals' bus from Viera was similarly trapped. The Nationals' manager assumed he'd hear some griping when he arrived.
"Everyone wants to play at home," Johnson said. "But I don't think every team can."
He was quite aware his starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, would have preferred to pitch in Viera. "He wants to pitch at home, Gio [Gonzalez] wants to pitch at home ... hey, I want to manage at home," Johnson said. But the likely sequence of the Nationals' rotation demands certain pitchers throw on certain days. Strasburg is on track to start against the Marlins April 1, Opening Day.
It wasn't always that way for Johnson's teams and his team's No. 1 starters. Dwight Gooden lived in Tampa, and the Mets trained in nearby St. Petersburg in 1984, Gooden's first spring. Long trips were uncommon then. And Johnson occasionally allowed Gooden to drive from home to games in Tampa, Dunedin and Cleawater. As springs passed, Gooden avoided long trips and bus rides altogether, and not merely because he was who he was or because of convenience.
Gooden used bribery to stay at home.
He was well aware of the sweet tooth of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, and he fed it as a means of avoiding road exhibition starts. Stottlemyre loved Gummi Bears and any Gummi candy. Ice cream was his greatest vice, but it didn't travel well.
Risking his good standing with his coach, Gooden bought a large jar of Gummi worms and made his payment though, unbeknownst to Stottlemyre, he had slipped a brightly colored finishing lure that closely resembled the Gummi worms, into the jar.
Stottlemyre would load up the back pocket of his uniform pants with his in-game snacks.
On judgment day, Gooden waited and watched from the dugout bench. He saw his coach stuff a few worms -- and one lure -- into his mouth. The rubbery plastic lure didn't chew well. Gooden wound up on the dugout floor, holding his belly as he laughed. But he still didn't pitch on the road. "The deal was I had to supply Mel with Gummis," he said. "And I did."
When his workday was done Wednesday, Strasburg chuckled about the Gummi anecdote. Two of his three starts thus far have been in the road, and he recalled last spring when Gonzalez didn't make a home start. He acknowledged he might have to find the weakness of pitching coach Steve McCatty.
Davey has good idea of Nats' lineup composition
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Davey Johnson has known for weeks -- no, months -- the composition of the Nationals' 2013 roster. It's his long-standing theory that Spring Training is a time for preparation. The exhibition season is not a proving ground for young players. As impressive as Anthony Rendon has been thus far -- and he hit another home run Wednesday -- Johnson responds with a matter of fact "no" when Rendon's chance of being on the Opening Day roster was brought up.
The same level of certainty exists with Johnson's plans for the Nationals' batting order. He likes to say "It's a work in progress," though the progress may have ended. Johnson knows what he likes and what he wants. He might fiddle here and there as April 1 appears on the horizon. But for now, it seems likely that Jayson Werth will bat second behind Denard Span and in front of Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, then Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and the catcher of the day.
"It depends on how we come out of spring, how guys are swinging," Johnson said. "If everybody's swinging good, that's got a good chance."
How good a chance? "You saw the lineup the other day. If you didn't get any [insight] into what I was thinking, then you'll never know."
The manager's decisions are based on skills -- speed and power, of course, but also ability to reach base and to disrupt the opposing manager's planned use of his bullpen.
Zimmerman has batted third almost exclusively in his last two seasons after batting fourth in 41 games 2010.
The change has more to do with Harper than with Zimmerman. Part of the manager's take on Harper's readiness to bat third was, "He's a tough out, he doesn't swing at bad pitches and he uses the whole field. ... He can flat out hit."
And to answer any other inquiry, Johnson said emphatically "He will be on my team, ya know."
• Johnson expressed his view -- from above -- of the Phillies after he saw former Nationals pitcher John Lannan wearing a Phillies uniform: "He looks lousy in that uniform," the manager said with a smile. "He won some big games for us. He was a big part of the growth of this organization. He's going to help the Phillies. They have a lot of talent over there and they've added some depth. We're not overlooking them."
• Johnson speaking of Zimmerman's reaction to the hot-hitting of rookie third baseman Anthony Rendon: "Are there any other positions he plays?"
• Johnson had Rendon bat third Wednesday, and used him at shortstop. Asked whether using a third baseman-by-trade at shortstop was indicative of anything, Johnson merely smiled. His decision to shift Hubie Brooks from third to shortstop with the '84 Mets made Brooks more appealing to the Expos, and Brooks became part of the package the Mets traded for Gary Carter in December that year. He drove in 100 runs for the Expos in 1985.
Suffice it to say, Johnson likes offense in his middle infield.
• Johnson was a tad surprised after Roy Halladay threw a pitch behind Nationals' DH Tyler Moore in the fourth inning. The pitch might have been seen as retaliation for Stephen Strasburg hitting Chase Utley in the third.
Johnson asked Moore "Is there history?"
Moore's response was "There is now."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.