VIERA, Fla. - More from Nationals manager Davey Johnson after the Nationals’ second workout of the spring Wednesday. With utility man Mark DeRosa reporting, the only two players who haven’t shown up in camp are non-roster outfielder Xavier Paul and right-hander Henry Rodriguez, whose tardy arrival is excused because he informed the club he was dealing with a personal issue:
* Johnson was impressed with how right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus threw Wednesday. “Mattheus was flat-out throwing the hell out of the ball,” Johnson said. “In fact, I had to go tell him to take it easy. I said, ‘I know you started throwing in January,” and he said, ‘No, December.’ ” Johnson thinks Mattheus might be trying hard to impress with the team’s bullpen all but set.
* The manager also got his first look at lefty Matt Purke, the Nats’ third-round pick in the June draft out of TCU, a shoulder problem dropping his stock. Purke signed a major league deal and is in his first spring camp, but Johnson isn’t sure he’ll get innings once Grapefruit League play begins. A more likely scenario, Johnson said, would be for Purke to appear for an inning in the March 2 exhibition game against Georgetown. “I liked his delivery, I liked the way the ball came out of his hand. ... (But) I’ve got 10 starters ahead of him that I need to stretch out,” Johnson said.
* Rodriguez’s delayed arrival isn’t a concern for Johnson because the hard-throwing right-hander worked 23 2/3 innings for Leones del Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he was 2-0 with a 3.80 ERA. Last year, visa issues delayed Rodriguez’s arrival and he was behind the other pitchers when he finally got in games.
* Johnson believes his team can improve offensively on what happened in 2011. Last season, Johnson inherited from Jim Riggleman a club built on defense and speed with little pop. In the offseason, he and general manager Mike Rizzo worked hard to bolster the bench and Johnson is expecting better production from some of his veterans who had off years last season. “I think potentially all of the young guys have a higher ceiling, so I think that (means) there’s room for progress there, a good 20 percent or better, just putting a number on it,” he said. “(Ryan Zimmerman) and (Adam) LaRoche healthy, not having so much change for (Jayson) Werth and putting together a more offensive bench I want - I’m comfortable our offense is going to be a lot better. ... They’re all here, just about.”
* The organized workouts are being held at the minor league complex for pitchers and catchers, while the position players are hitting on a field adjacent to Space Coast Stadium. Johnson said the reports he received from the first workout didn’t contain a mention about top prospect Bryce Harper. “They don’t want to try to influence me in the end,” Johnson said. “My mind’s not made up. I just want everyone else to be, including (the media) and Rizz.” Shortly after he said that, a couple of coaches walked through the room where Johnson’s press briefing was being held and drew this wisecrack from the skipper: “You guys going over there? Let me know if there’s any phenom over there.”
* As far as Johnson is concerned, the fact that Harper is only 19 won’t factor into the equation when the decision is made about whether he sticks on the 25-man roster or gets farmed out. “It doesn’t. ...You can either play or you can’t and I grade according to what I’ve seen, and how they would fit into my scheme of things with balance,” Johnson said. Because Johnson’s lineup contains more right-handed hitters, the fact that Harper hits from the left side of the plate might work in his favor.