(Alex Brandon/AP) (Alex Brandon/AP)

Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, the most popular clubhouse choice to replace Davey Johnson as manager, interviewed late last week for job, according to a person familiar with the situation. The interview comes as no surprise. A fixture in the organization and a favorite among players, Knorr is considered the strongest in-house candidate.

The Nationals are still conducting their first round of interviews, which have also included Padres front office assistant Brad Ausmus and Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams. Nationals third base coach Trent Jewett is also expected to be a candidate.

The Nationals plan to whittle down their initial short list into a smaller group of finalists, then invite them back for a second round of interviews, according to a person close to the process.

Knorr, 44, has been with the Nationals’ franchise since he joined the Montreal Expos as a catcher in 2001. He has managed at every level of the minor leagues and he served as Johnson’s bench coach the past two seasons. He has developed close relationships to numerous players, especially homegrown players like shortstop Ian Desmond, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left-hander Ross Detwiler.

Knorr would allow the Nationals to stay the course with a team that, despite missing the playoffs this year, has won 184 games over the past two regular seasons. Desmond and Zimmerman have both strongly advocated for Knorr. Right fielder Jayson Werth said Cal Ripken would be his “No. 1 choice,” but quickly added, “I’d like to have Randy just as much.”

Johnson has said either Knorr or Jewett would be his choice, because of their experience managing in the Nationals’ minor league system.

Two high-profile moments this season showed how Knorr may differentiate himself from Johnson. After Johnson was ejected from a game against the Pirates, Knorr, acting as manager, pulled closer Rafael Soriano during the ninth inning for rookie Ian Krol because he did not like Soriano’s demeanor. After a game Johnson left because of a health scare, Knorr criticized superstar Bryce Harper for not hustling down the first base line after a grounder.

Still, Knorr is not known as a strict disciplinarian. He wants players to show up on time and play hard, but otherwise he allows players to be themselves. Fellow coaches sometimes teased him about his relentless positivity.

Knorr won two World Series rings early in his career as a backup catcher for the Blue Jays. Incidentally, Knorr was briefly a backup to Ausmus on the 1997 Astros.