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Nationals make it official: Davey Johnson to manage in 2012

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The Nationals made official Monday the long-expected move to solidify the start to one of the most anticipated offseasons in team history: they agreed to keep manager Davey Johnson in the dugout for the 2012 season. 
It had been a quiet October for the Nationals as they were reduced to playoff spectators for the seventh time in their short history. But the decision to bring back Johnson helps keep them on a path they hope will ultimately lead to the playoffs in short order.

Johnson, who took over the helm of the Nationals on June 27, three days after the abrupt resignation of then-manager Jim Riggleman, signed a three-year consulting contract at that time. The contract included an option for Johnson to return as the team’s manager in 2012 but the Nationals would be required to conduct a managerial search following the 2011 season to comply with Major League Baseball’s hiring protocol. Even if that search included Johnson, one of general manager Mike Rizzo’s most trusted advisors, as a candidate.
With the search complete, the Nationals agreed with Johnson’s own assessment that he was the best candidate for the job. 

“After a series of discussions, it became obvious that the Nationals would be best served if Davey Johnson would continue as manager,” Rizzo said in a statement. “Davey’s remarkable connection to the clubhouse and D.C. community during the season’s final three months was well received. His baseball acumen coupled with a proper off-season of planning, including a full regiment of Spring Training, should put our players in a position to succeed in 2012.”

In 83 games as the Nationals’ manager, the team was 40-43 and came just one victory shy of a winning record for the year. It was just the fourth sub-.500 finish Johnson’s ever had in 15 years as a manager — and all but one of those marks came in abbreviated seasons. With a full season in the dugout, aside from his first year managing the Dodgers when they were 77-85, Johnson’s teams have never finished worse than 10 games over .500.

“He thinks you’re a professional and he treats you like one,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said in September of Johnson. “We’re to the point where, a few years ago that might not have been so good, but now we have a team that’s a little bit older. The majority of guys have been around for a little while and they know what they need to do. He just lets guys get ready to play the way they want to play.”

“I enjoy him,” Zimmerman added. “I think he’s a really good baseball guy. He’s fun to play for. He sticks up for his players and he understands what we’re going through because he was a player… I think his attitude, the way he handles all the people, and the relationship, personally, that I have with him is great. I can’t speak for everyone else but I think everyone respects him a lot.”

From the moment Johnson took over in Washington, he began the process of shaping the Nationals’ roster for the 2012 season. While winning games remained paramount, Johnson paid special care to filling holes and testing players in positions where the team felt they should excel — an attempt to have as few question marks as possible heading into spring training.
He made his moves in late August and September to reflect that mentality. He shifted veterans Tom Gorzelanny and Livan Hernandez out of the Nationals rotation and made way for Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock in it. All three performed extremely well in September and solidified significant opportunities to make the Nationals’ starting rotation next year. He also moved a flourishing Ian Desmond into the leadoff spot and put Jayson Werth in center field in attempts to fill the Nationals’ two biggest vacancies without needing a big-ticket free agent or a trade this offseason.

Johnson made it clear that he was attempting to set the Nationals up for success next season by doing those things, but until the season’s final day he did not tip his hand on whether he’d like to continue to be the man pulling the strings. In the dugout at Sun Life Stadium before the season’s finale, though, Johnson said just that.

“I know I’m the best candidate,” Johnson said, knowing full well that with his contract as a consultant when the 2011 season ended, his opinion would be a valued one in the process of selecting the manager for next year.

“I’d like to come back,” he said. “I signed on as interim manager with an extension in consulting. I like the direction the club has been taking and I like what I saw.”

“I didn’t plan on starting this job, but when I start something I like to finish it. We haven’t finished anything.”

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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