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“But Johnson said the Nationals are ready to contend. "I couldn't have said that last spring. I didn't think the talent was ready," he continued. "But after being there and seeing the progress that some of the young players made, I think we definitely can contend. And I would be sorely disappointed if we didn't do just that. The talent's there." At 68, Johnson is a year older than Tony La Russa, who announced his retirement Monday, three days after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title. Johnson, who led the New York Mets to the 1986 championship, took over as Washington's manager in late June, after Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned. The Nationals went 40-43 under Johnson and finished 80-81 (one rainout wasn't made up). "The only question I had about Davey taking over was: Did he want to do it, and was his energy level and his focus going to be there?" general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And even as early as during spring training of this year, I saw a guy -- Davey just moved around better this year. ... He had an energy about him and a bounce in his step. I thought to myself, 'Wow, Davey's really into it and really fired up for the season." The Nationals are the fifth major league club managed by Johnson, who was the 1997 AL Manager of the Year with the Baltimore Orioles. Rizzo hired him as a special assistant to the GM in November 2009. "He was a resource for me through all the early times and the early decisions we made, and he was a comfortable guy to have at spring training to bounce things off of," Rizzo said. "He was the easy choice for me when we had to make a change at the major league level." The Nationals have assembled a core of young players such as starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, closer Drew Storen, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, shortstop Ian Desmond, second baseman Danny Espinosa and catcher Wilson Ramos. "There's such a great bunch of kids, and we haven't come close to the ceiling they're going to get to. And I really feel like I'm kind of their father figure," Johnson said. "I think that they respect me, and I think I'm the guy who can steer them along their path." There are, of course, problems that need to be solved, and Johnson pointed to some Monday, mostly on offense. But he is excited about much of what he sees. "I like the way we stack up against everybody in our division," Johnson said. "I'm not just sticking out my chest and saying some hot air. My baseball instincts tell me that's where we need to be, that's where we need to go, and that we can get there." Most of his coaching staff will return next season, but Johnson said that bench coach Pat Corrales will be replaced. "I love him to death, and he did a great job," Johnson said.
I like the way we stack up against everybody in our division. I'm not just sticking out my chest and saying some hot air. My baseball instincts tell me that's where we need to be, that's where we need to go, and that we can get there.” -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson