The Washington Nationals conducted a telephone press conference this morning, announcing Davey Johnson will return as field manager of the Nats for 2012. The 68-year old manager didn’t hide his feelings about his goals and expectations for the upcoming season.
“A pennant. Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League,” Johnson stated definitively. “I couldn’t have said that last spring, I didn’t think the talent was ready. But after being there and seeing the progress some young players have made, I think definitely we can contend. And I would be sorely disappointed if we didn’t do just that.”
Johnson took over the helm in mid-season last year following Jim Riggleman’s dramatic resignation, guiding the team to their first ever third place finish in the division and 80-81 record. Johnson’s personal record was 40-43, including a remarkable 17-10 record in September.
Johnson was asked when he felt like this was “his team”. “The last two or three weeks [of the season] in seeing when I had more of the mixture of talent that I wanted on the ball club, and seeing how they all worked together, that was when I really felt, ‘man, there’s so much more we can do here’ and I need to be here to help see it along.”
In a press release announcing the move this morning, GM Mike Rizzo said, “After a series of discussions, it became obvious that the Nationals would be best served if Davey Johnson would continue as manager. Davey’s remarkable connection to the clubhouse and D.C. community during the season’s final three months was well received. His baseball acumen coupled with a proper off-season of planning, including a full regiment of Spring Training, should put our players in a position to succeed in 2012.”
Johnson lauded the organization. “I’ve been with the club for a couple years and last two spring trainings have been really fun for me. Not only being with big league guys, but the minor league guys and also spending a lot of time with the front office people. It’s just a great organization. One of the better ones I’ve ever been in, if not the best.”
“It’s such a great organization, such a great bunch of kids,” Johnson continued. “I really feel like I’m kind of their father figure. I think they respect me. I’m the kind of guy that can steer them right along their path.”
Johnson spoke of things — both positive and negative — about the construction of the Nats roster. He spoke glowingly about the overall talent level, but stressed that the Nats still needed work in several areas, including getting better reaching base and cutting down on the record number of strikeouts the team had last season. As he’s mentioned several times in the past, he’d like the bench to be more robust and the bullpen more flexible. But overall, he’s pleased with the direction the roster is going.
“I think Mike Rizzo and I, since I met him, we’ve been on the same page just about every minute of the time,” Johnson said about his boss. “A lot of things, once they’re in place and once they’re set up, they’re kinda hard to change mid-stream. Whether it’s the configuration of your bullpen, the make-up of your bench, those are very difficult things [to change], to how you feel to be able to manage this ballclub. I thought we eventually got to that point after I was there a couple months. I really liked the talent level, and the make-up, and it became very much fun.”
“The talent’s there. Obviously we need to do better than we did in certain areas. You know, offensively we struck out too much, tried to do too much. Didn’t make pitchers throw the ball in the strike zone. Didn’t hit the fastball as well as we should have. A mountain of things. A few things defensively. But I think we definitely can get there. A good spring training and a good start, I like the way we stack up against the rest of our division too. I’m not just sticking out my chest and singing some hot air. My baseball instincts tell me that’s where we need to be.”
Johnson also indicated bench coach Pat Corrales will probably not return for the 2012 season, but the remainder of the staff should be back. Corrales, 70, will remain with the organization.