Johnson on Clippard’s role, DeRosa’s influence, Harper’s injury and more

Tyler Clippard will continue to be one of the most important parts of the Nationals’ bullpen. But manager Davey Johnson wants to make one alteration to the right-hander’s job description heading into 2012.

“I don’t envision him coming into ballgames before the seventh inning,” Johnson told reporters in Viera, Fla., this morning before the Nationals hosted a Cardinals split squad. “Last year, I think he had a lot of appearances prior to me getting here early on where there was a fire that needed to be put out. I don’t envision that. He’ll mainly be seventh inning on. ... Predominantly eight.”

Johnson envisions Clippard setting up for closer Drew Storen, just as he did most of the second half last year.

“I don’t look to change his role. Why would I change something that was damn near perfect?”

With the addition of Brad Lidge, and the availability of holdovers Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez, Johnson thinks he has enough arms so that he doesn’t have to rely on Clippard so much. Last year, Clippard made 72 appearances and led National League relievers with 88 1/3 innings.

“I think I’ll be able to keep him fresher with the arms we have coming out of the chute,” Johnson said.

* While Johnson usually doesn’t pay much attention to personalities, he’s been impressed with how quickly newcomer Mark DeRosa has integrated himself into the Nationals’ clubhouse culture. DeRosa has already struck up a friendship with second baseman Danny Espinosa and the two are frequently seen talking shop.

“I generally don’t put a lot of emphasis on the guys off the field or in the clubhouse, but there are exceptions and he’s an exception,” Johnson said of DeRosa. “He’s awfully good on the field, in the clubhouse and off the field. I knew that about him when I managed him in the World Baseball Classic. ... My only concern about him is to make sure he’s healthy, that I don’t abuse him or overuse him.”

DeRosa has shown no indication of the nagging wrist problems that dogged him for two seasons. Johnson said with Adam LaRoche recovered from a mild left ankle sprain, he can now move DeRosa off first base and around the infield. For now, DeRosa isn’t scheduled to play the outfield, Johnson said.

* Johnson and Bryce Harper ended up on adjacent tables in the trainer’s room Monday morning, and the manager still isn’t convinced the organization’s top prospect is fully recovered from the left calf strain that has sidelined him since he was scratched from Thursday’s lineup.

“I might be healthier than (Harper) is right now,” Johnson said. “He still has a little discomfort in there. ... But he says he’s ready.”

Johnson is holding firm on his belief that Harper has to go through an entire workout pain-free before he’s allowed back in the lineup.

“When you run around and there’s no pain in there, then you’ll be ready,” Johnson said he told Harper.

Asked if the extended absence could hurt Harper’s chances of breaking camp on the 25-man roster, Johnson said, “I won’t say it will hurt him. I don’t want to rush him and hurt him that way. I know he’s a gifted talent; he doesn’t really need to prove that to me. He’s just a part of a lot of pieces that go together that I’m putting together in the outfield. The jury’s still out.”

* Johnson said right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will make his second start of the spring Thursday when the Nationals host Wang’s old club, the Yankees. Wang will pitch three innings and be followed to the mound by lefty John Lannan, who has been mentioned prominently in trade rumors. Johnson would allow Lannan to pitch as much as five innings, meaning the two starters could cover the entire game, but he won’t bring Lannan in during the middle of an inning.

* Cuts are coming, probably before today’s game, Johnson said. He said about 10 players would be trimmed from the roster.

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