Johnson to manage Nats next season

WASHINGTON — The Nationals announced on Monday that they have exercised manager Davey Johnson’s option for the 2012 season.

Johnson took over the position on an interim basis on June 26, three days after Jim Riggleman resigned. Washington went 40-43 under Johnson, finishing third in the National League East — its highest finish since the team moved from Montreal after the 2004 season.

Johnson said being around people in the front office, the Minor League system and Major Leagues are the reasons he wanted to continue to manage the club. Johnson sees himself as a father figure to most of the young players.

“It’s just a great organization. It’s one of the better ones I’ve ever been in, if not the best,” Johnson said. “There is no question that I love baseball. … I thought everything worked pretty good together [with the team]. I think we accomplished a lot of things. I would say the last two or three weeks, when I had kind of mixture of talent that I wanted on the ballclub … that’s when I really felt that there is so much more we can do here, and I need to be here to help see it along.”

Johnson made it clear that his goal in 2012 is win the NL pennant. To do that, the Nats must improve offensively. Johnson felt that his position players struck out too much. He would like to see much more production out of his reserves. Last year, the bench was built on speed and defense. Johnson would like to add power to the bench.

“I wouldn’t have been able to say that last spring,” Johnson said about winning a pennant. “But after being there and seeing the progress the young players made, I think we definitely can contend. I would be sorely disappointed if we didn’t do just that. The talent is there. I like the way we stack up in our division. I’m not just sticking out my chest. My baseball instinct tells me that’s where we need to be. That’s where we need to go and we can get there.”

In 2011, for the second time in his career, Johnson took a big league manager’s job in the middle of a season. He did the same with Cincinnati in 1993, and one season later, his Reds finished atop the NL Central with a .579 winning percentage during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said it was an easy choice to hire Johnson as the interim manager in June. Rizzo remembered how Johnson worked with the players during Spring Training.

“The only questions that I had about Davey taking over [were], ‘Did he want to do it? Was his energy level and his focus were going to be there?’ Even as early as Spring Training this year, I saw that he moved around better this year,” Rizzo said. “He always had the fungo in his hands. He was always pounding ground balls to the young guys.

“He had the energy and a bounce in his step that I thought to myself, “Wow, Davey is really into it. He is really fired up for the season.’ It couldn’t have been a smoother, easier decision for me to bring Davey on in midseason. It was just as comfortable and easy decision after the season to pick up the option and make Davey the leader of the ballclub.”

Johnson has skippered five clubs (Nationals, Dodgers, Orioles, Reds, Mets) in 15 seasons, compiling a 1,188-931 record and a .561 career winning percentage that ranks second to only Earl Weaver (.583) among living managers with 10 or more years of experience.

He is one of only six living men to have won a World Series ring as a player and manager, joining Alvin Dark, Joe Girardi, Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia and Red Schoendienst.

Johnson joined the Nationals as a special assistant to the general manager on Nov. 18, 2009, after managing Team USA to a semifinal berth in the World Baseball Classic.

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