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Davey Johnson expects big things from the Nationals this season and beyond.
When Johnson says this Nationals squad has a chance to be better than the 1984 Mets franchise he inherited and watched improve from 90 wins to 98 wins to 108 wins and a World Series title in just three seasons ... well, who are you to argue with the man?
"This club has more potential than that club," Johnson insisted yesterday. "It actually has more athletes. It has a lot of gifted athletes."
"The potential I see on this ballclub is pretty damn high," he added. "And it's going to be my job to see that we play like it."
Johnson has never been afraid to tell you what he really thinks. He doesn't sugarcoat the bad stuff, and he doesn't oversell the good stuff. He also doesn't deflect praise being sent in his general direction. Pay attention how often he refers to a player doing something big "for me," or how "I got" a certain player to perform.
Is the 69-year-old cocky? Perhaps. If nothing else, he's supremely confident. But the man has certainly earned the right to be that way after a lifetime in baseball that has seen him make All-Star teams and win World Series as a player and then capture another championship in his later career as a manager.
When he took over the Nationals in late-June, Johnson seemed a bit less sure of himself. In hindsight, though he knew the club he was inheriting well, he admits he didn't know the rest of the NL.
"Last year I knew our talent pretty good. That wasn't the problem," he said. "But I didn't have the opportunity to study the opposition. ... I didn't really know the opposition like you would if you're in the league for a couple of years."
So Johnson spent much of this offseason studying up not only on his own franchise but on 29 other franchises as well. The goal: Be as prepared as possible once the season rolls around so he can put his players into situations he believes will give them the best chance for success.
He also spent considerable time thinking about what changes he would like to make to the Nationals' spring training routine. Never one to enjoy long, slow workouts spread out over multiple fields, Johnson plans to keep these early-spring gatherings brief, up-tempo and boisterous.
When pitchers and catchers take the field this morning for the first official workout of 2012, don't blink or you might miss it altogether. The session is barely scheduled to surpass one hour.
Things will ramp up once position players join the mix later this week, but Johnson still prefers to get a lot done in a short amount of time than a little done over long stretches.
All of this is designed to prepare his team as well as possible for Opening Day in Chicago, some six weeks away. And if this group does what it's supposed to do this spring, then realizes its potential once the bell rings for good, Johnson has no doubt it can duplicate (if not surpass) the success his Mets clubs of the '80s enjoyed.
"If we do that here, which I expect, it's coming," he said. "Everything in my baseball sense tells me these guys are going to go out and play more relaxed and smarter baseball and express their ability. It's going to be fun. I've been excited thinking about it. It was really a long winter for me, because I wanted to get with it."