Davey Johnson conducted his first press conference with reporters in Anaheim a few minutes ago, and he made a number of interesting points before the Nationals' game with the Los Angeles Angels tonight. Here are a few highlights and observations.
* At several points, Johnson made it clear he's not too old or too far removed from managing to handle the Nationals now. He said the decision to accept the Nationals job was an easy one, adding that he enjoys the stress of managing the team every day. He talked extensively about his experience with the U.S. Olympic Team and the World Baseball Classic, and even said he'd been managing the last two summers in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, a wood-bat league for college players. And when he was asked what might be different about the game than the last time he was managing in the majors in 2011, Johnson said the game was still the same, flavoring his answers with anecdotes from his past, like he did through much of the press conference. "Baseball's the same," Johnson said. "As far as managing, every team is different. It's a learning experience of the talent, the abilities of each player and how you handle them. But the game's the same." He said he'd talk about managing the Nationals in 2012 if that's something general manager Mike Rizzo wants him to do. But asked if he has the commitment to manage the Nationals, Johnson said, "I wouldn't have said yes if I didn't."
* His managerial style will differ from Jim Riggleman's; Johnson said, "I don't like to give away outs," and while he said he'll bunt when he has to, it's likely you won't see as much of it from the Nationals as you did under Riggleman. And he'll try to use a more consistent lineup than Riggleman did. "I think players, as well as managers, they like consistency," Johnson said. "That goes the same with starting pitchers or relievers - they like to know basically when they're going to work. That's all me getting to know the talent and making decisions that are going to be best for the ballclub. But I definitely would like a more set lineup." The rest of his style will evolve over time, but it's safe to say it won't be as small-ball oriented as Riggleman could be at times. "I think this club hasn't quite come into its own," Johnson said. "It doesn't really know how good an offensive club it can be. It definitely has a chance to be a good one."
* Johnson said he texted Riggleman - whom he called "a good baseball man" - and told him he'd try to continue what he started. He didn't have a theory to offer as to why Riggleman resigned, but also had good things to say about former bench coach John McLaren, who resigned out of respect for Riggleman and took a scouting position in the organization. And he asked Pat Corrales - another former manager working in the Nationals' front office - to be his bench coach, reprising a role he last held when Riggleman went from bench coach to manager after Manny Acta was fired in July 2009. "You know why I asked you, don't you?" Johnson said to the 70-year-old Corrales. "You're older than me, and I won't be the oldest guy on the staff."
* As for the rest of this season, Johnson didn't hold back on his expectations. Asked if the Nationals could make the playoffs as a wild card, he simply said, "Most definitely." He's been known to send subtle messages to players through reporters - whom he said he enjoys talking to - and set the standards high for the rest of 2011. He also hinted that he'd be excited to manage Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in the future - he managed Strasburg in the 2008 Olympics, and said he's known Harper since he was 15. "He's going to be up here pretty soon," Johnson said. "When I think about him and Strasburg, then I start thinking about next year. But we've already gone over that."
One other point of observation - Rizzo has talked several times about how much he values Johnson's opinion, which holds a considerable amount of weight in the organization. That dynamic will change somewhat now that he's managing, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's still got quite a bit of input into roster decisions in the next several months. He's not coming into this job like a normal manager would, and he could hold a little more sway than most do.