Former manager Davey Johnson visits Nats (Kobernus released)

LAKELAND, Fla. - Davey Johnson may have retired as Nationals manager after the 2013 season, but he continued to keep close tabs on his former ballclub from afar by watching virtually every game they played on television last year.

“It’s in your blood,” Johnson said. “It was fun. I was addicted to it. I would check the paper. I don’t think I missed but one or two games all season long.”

Despite intently watching his old team from afar, Johnson had not seen the Nats in person since he left Washington. That was until Tuesday afternoon when he showed up at Joker Marchant Stadium before the Nationals played the Tigers.

williams-johnson-spring-tall.jpgJohnson, 72, milled around during batting practice, sharing hugs and laughs with a lot of his old players, including Bryce Harper. Current Nationals manager Matt Williams said he and Johnson text each other fairly often and sometimes talk on the phone. But the last time Williams saw him was back during his playing days, despite extending invitations for the former skipper to come to the ballpark.

“It’s nice for him to be around the club whenever possible,” Williams said while joking. “He’s been off in Belize and places like that fishing, so he finally got back and had a chance to come out.

“In my book, he’s a Hall of Fame manager. I can certainly learn from him, a lot of us can learn from him. So we hope he’s around more.”

Johnson offered the popular response when he heard the news that Max Scherzer was joining the Nats’ stellar rotation.

“I was amazed,” he said. “Of course you can never get too much pitching.”

Johnson quickly recalled dealing with a similar situation when he was managing the Mets as they headed into the 1989 season with six top-flight starting pitchers: Frank Viola, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bobby Ojeda.

“I had to go about a week before we started the season, I got ‘em all in the outfield and I said, ‘Well, let’s see. Bobby, you’re going in the ‘pen because you pitched out of the ‘pen before.’ And that was it,” Johnson said. “And as it would happen, someone ended up getting a little injury, then Bobby got back into the rotation. It’s a tough call.”

harper-johnson-tall.jpgJohnson couldn’t come up with many weaknesses when evaluating this year’s Nats, other than he’d like to see some more left-handed bats in the lineup, especially with Denard Span injured. Though Johnson thinks the club will be in good shape because of the preparedness of the Nats farm system.

“I know the minor league system is in a lot better shape where guys are knocking on the door,” Johnson said. “I felt it was going to be last year or this year where you’d start to have depth in the minor league system that championship clubs have. And I think you’ve got it with pitching, and I know a lot of good young everyday players are knocking on the door. That, to me, tells you if you have a chance to be a true champion.”

Williams sits in a similar position as Johnson back in 2013 coming off a devastating loss in the National League Division Series, but entering the season with a loaded roster and the surrounding expectations.

There’s no chance Williams will offer the infamous “World Series or bust” quote that his predecessor proclaimed in spring training two years ago.

“It was bust. But that’s baseball,” Johnson said with no regrets.

“I always believe you have to have goals and goals that you’re capable of reaching. If you don’t think you’re capable of reaching those goals, then you’ve got no chance. That keeps you on your toes. Concentration’s going to be a little higher. So nothing wrong with having people think you’re going to be pretty good. But I do like the talent on this ballclub.”

Note: The Nats have released infielder/outfielder Jeff Kobernus. The 26-year-old was selected in the second round by the Nats in 2009 and proceeded to bat .139/.295/.222 with one homer in 28 games in the majors from 2013-14. He was limited to 77 total games between the majors and minors last season because of a broken hand.

Kobernus was sent to minor league camp last week after going 2-for-13 this spring.

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