“It was really a long winter for me,” Johnson said. “Because I wanted to get with it.”
Johnson believes the Nationals can blow past trying to finish with the first winning record since baseball’s return to Washington, straight to contention. His first major league managing experience, more than a quarter-century ago, included an up-and-coming team in the mid-80s New York Mets. In his first session with the media this spring, Johnson said he’d take his latest team over his first.
“This club has more potential than that club,” Johnson said. “It just has a lot more gifted athletes. The potential I see on this club is pretty damn high. It’s going to be my job to see that we play like it.”
Johnson’s confidence stems, in part, from how defined the Nationals roster is even before the end of February. Only 53 healthy players are in camp, a far cry from the cattle calls of past seasons. Among those, Johnson can already see the contour of the 25-man roster.
“There’s only three spots that are open,” Johnson said. “And that’s a stretch.”
The competitions Johnson envisions are the final spot on the pitching staff, the utility infielder (between Steve Lombardozzi and Andres Blanco) and the final bench player, which could be either an infielder or outfielder. Lombardozzi has already made an impression on Johnson with his increased size after gaining 15 pounds this winter. “I thought of him as a skinny little beanpole,” Johnson said.
Johnson will wait for the spring to progress before laying out his rotation. But he also said, “your projections were real close.” It seems like the safest bet will be Stephen Strasburg starting opening day, followed by Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and the fifth starter. But, again, Johnson said he wanted to see how all the starters throw in the next six weeks — the six weeks he waited all winter for.