Johnson remained genial, but he wanted to make a point. Johnson is not a man who lives in the future, and for him, the decision on Harper will play itself out. He wants to focus on the bench competition in Nationals camp between new, unheralded players with whom he has little familiarity, naming Xavier Paul, Jason Michaels, Chad Tracy, Mark Teahen and Brett Carroll as players competing for a final bench spot.
“To me,” Johnson said, “those things are more interesting than Harper bunting against a college team.”
Johnson shaped his first lineup of the spring in order to evaluate certain players. He’s starting five left-handers – Tracy, Teahen, Harper, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel – against the Houston Astros so he can judge them against similar pitching, in this case right-handed starter Livan Hernandez. Tomorrow, Johnson will stack his lineup with right-handed hitters for the same purpose.
“This is an important spring,” Johnson said. “Guys are competing for spots on the roster. You know what I think of this team as a whole. I think we’re competing for winning our division. We’re not in development mode. We’re not in a building mode. Each day, what goes on here is very important. My focus is these games. I love watching guys compete. Every day is a story. Every day tells me something. I learn more about the talent.”
Carroll is an under-the-radar name to remember. If Harper does not make the team, one bench spot will most likely to one of the Nationals non-roster invitees. Carroll, who spent almost all of last year in Class AAA with the Brewers and Red Sox, has made an impression. He can play all three outfield spots and, “the kid’s got a cannon,” Johnson said. “I’ve been impressed with Brett Carroll. Carroll has opened my eyes. I’m going to be looking at him.”