VIERA, Fla. - Davey Johnson strolled into the home dugout at Space Coast Stadium a bit ago, wearing a blue track suit and sneakers, a smile on his face as the last season of his managerial career has gotten under way.
After participating in meetings with coaches and front office members over parts of the last couple of days and taking his physical this morning, the 70-year-old Nationals skipper told stories of his offseason trip to Africa, recounting tales of watching a lion eating a warthog, and a leopard sitting in a tree eating an impala.
“I thought one time I was going to get run over by a bull elephant,” Johnson said. “It was the only time we were within 10 feet of animals in a big Land Rover. I took the highest seat. I figured they’d eat the people down below me before they’d get to me.”
He discussed a couple problems that awaited him at home, including issues with his boat. Johnson also has decided to change his email address because he’s been receiving too much spam.
“I’m not even going to tell you, but you can guess, somebody my age, what I might be getting,” Johnson said.
Another year, same old Davey.
When Johnson returned from his trip, he learned of the Nationals’ signing of Rafael Soriano, which had happened while he was away.
“Caught me kind of unaware,” Johnson said of the move. “I thought we were done, and his name had never even come up, so that was kind of a shocker.”
Johnson is fond of using an A and a B bullpen, using two closers throughout a season in order to keep both guys fresh. He might go with that strategy this season, and it’s clear that Soriano is the Nats’ No. 1 closer, ahead of Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. But Johnson admits he’ll need to learn more about Soriano before he determines how he’ll handle ninth-inning situations.
“(Storen’s) an outstanding closer. Clip’s an outstanding closer, too,” Johnson said. “Did a great job. I don’t have a good feel for Soriano. When you’re a good ballclub and you’re successful and you run off a series of wins, (I need to learn) how consistent he is with a lot of work. And that’ll be a learning experience for me on what he’s capable of doing, how he’s at his best.”
Johnson was asked how he reacted to the news that Gio Gonzalez had been linked to the anti-aging clinic Biogenesis, which was allegedly dealing performance-enhancing drugs to players.
“Knowing Gio, I figured there wasn’t much to it,” Johnson said. “I’ve gotten to know him real well, and I know he’s very conscious of taking care of himself. ... I’m sure he wouldn’t do anything that he knew was breaking the rules.”
Johnson said he’s already had some preliminary discussions with Team USA’s coaching staff on how Gonzalez will be used in the World Baseball Classic. It sounds like Gonzalez is lining up to pitch for Team USA on March 10, which would allow the Nats to give the lefty three game appearances here at camp before he left to take part in the WBC.
Johnson is happy Danny Espinosa opted not to participate in the WBC, saying he expects the Nats to go slow with their second baseman as he works his way back from a torn rotator cuff suffered late last season.
Expect Zach Duke to be a name we hear a decent amount from this spring, as Johnson seems to really like the veteran lefty.
“He’s a good guy, competitor,” Johnson said. “There’s a good chance I might lean heavily on him and not just out of the bullpen as a long-man, but also if something happened, he’d probably be my first candidate to come into the rotation. I think a lot of him.”
Henry Rodriguez, who is coming back from elbow surgery last August, experienced a little tenderness when throwing, Johnson reported. The Nats plan to go slow with Rodriguez, who Johnson joked “might only be throwing 98” mph this season.
Johnson added that he has a pretty good idea how he’s going to structure his lineup this season, although he didn’t offer any specifics just yet. He did say he’d consider hitting Jayson Werth lower in the lineup as he continues to gain strength in his right wrist, but that doesn’t seem set.
“This season, in the spring, you’ll get an idea of where I play guys and where I hit them in the lineup, what I’m thinking,” he said.
It sounds like Werth will remain in right field this season, with Bryce Harper moving to left. Johnson said that after the Nats acquired center fielder Denard Span this offseason, Werth contacted his skipper and joked: “The perfect spot for the kid is left field because he hasn’t hit a cut-off man in two years.”