Davey Johnson readies for last season
VIERA, Fla. (AP) -- Davey Johnson is fully embracing the high expectations he's placed on the Washington Nationals.
The 70-year-old Johnson is preparing for his final season as manager before retiring, and says he's ready to "take the heat if we don't play well."
Johnson and his team are full of confidence after finishing with the best record in baseball last season, winning the NL East with a 98-64 record.
Washington enters spring training with few roster openings, with Johnson believing he may have the best team he's ever managed, better than the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets.
"I'm not going to come out and say we're going to dominate, but I'm going to come out and say I expect us to play awfully well on both sides of the ball," Johnson said Wednesday at spring training. "I can say unequivocally this is probably the best defensive team I've had. I can say this club has as good a starting pitching and bullpen that I've had. And I'd say this bench is as good as any I've had."
Johnson was hired as a senior adviser by general manager Mike Rizzo in 2009, then took over as manager in June 2011 after Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned.
Over the winter, Johnson and wife, Susan, visited Africa and the manager seemed relaxed and at ease at his first news conference of the spring.
"He's really in a place that he feels good about right now," Rizzo said. "He's done a lot in this game and he feels with the team he has here, he can really help drive this thing to great things this year."
Always quick with a quip, Johnson was asked if the team had decided which corner outfield spot Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth would play now that the Nationals have acquired center fielder Denard Span.
"I think Jayson's already decided that," Johnson said. "He told me early on after we made the trade (for Span) the perfect spot for the kid is left field because he hasn't hit a cutoff man in two years."
Reliever Drew Storen says Johnson is popular with the players because of his approach to the game and his experience.
"I feel like 70 is just a number for him because he can cut it up with the best of them," Storen said. "He's an energetic guy. Davey is Davey. He's a really special person to play for. He has his awesome quotes and his random one-liners that you really can't make up."
Of course, talk is cheap, and Johnson is well aware his young players still have to reach their full potential to make another run to the playoffs.
"I'm very comfortable with the talent on this ballclub from top to bottom," Johnson said. "I'm going to try my (best) not to mess it up."
NOTES: Neither Johnson nor Rizzo seemed concerned about second baseman Danny Espinosa, who pulled out of playing for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in order to further rehab his left shoulder. ... Johnson's reaction to pitcher Gio Gonzalez's name being linked to a report about performance-enhancing drugs: "Knowing Gio, I figured there wasn't much to it. I've gotten to know him real well. I'm sure he wouldn't do anything he knew was breaking the rules."