Nats unofficially set to start cranking it up

JUPITER, Fla. -- If you want some insight into why Davey Johnson has a reputation as a "players' manager," just take a look at the Washington Nationals' meager at-bat totals this spring.

Johnson is a firm believer that hitters need only so many swings to get ready, so he doesn't feel a need to herd his lineup mainstays onto the bus every other day for trips to Kissimmee and Lakeland and Port St. Lucie.

Johnson has taken particular care to avoid wearing out his players this year, given that spring training was long to begin with because of the World Baseball Classic. When the Nationals rolled into Roger Dean Stadium for a game against Miami on Wednesday, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman had 28 Grapefruit League at-bats each to their credit. Jayson Werth was at 32 and Denard Span at 36, while Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper had all logged between 40 and 50 at-bats each.

For sake of comparison, Ryan Howard had 60 at-bats and Michael Young 58 across the state in Philadelphia Phillies camp.

"That's the way Davey likes to run his camp," LaRoche said. "He understands the length of the regular season, and the last thing he wants is guys to be physically or mentally tired when you start from day one. He wants guys as fresh as can be. He's been around a long time and he doesn't panic early.

"Usually about now, he'll crank it up and we'll start playing two or three games in a row. He's pretty laid-back. He likes to take care of his guys."

It's unofficially time to start cranking. Johnson fielded his prime-time lineup against Miami, and the Nationals improved their Grapefruit League record to 11-11 with a 7-5 victory over the Marlins. Harper led the way with two hits and four RBIs, and Werth contributed two hits and a sacrifice fly.

The Nationals have no position battles left to unfold and only 33 players left in camp, so Johnson is likely to spend more time running the big boys out there between now and Washington's season opener against the Marlins on April 1. He's confident in his approach, and the players have faith in it, too, after going 14-8 in April a year ago.

"It's not your won-loss record in the spring," Johnson said. "It's about giving young guys the opportunity to get some experience so that you can see them perform and project how they'll help down the road.

"I like the way [the veterans] are taking [batting practice], and most of them will tell you they feel very close. That's the object of the spring. I've been down this road a few times. It's not like it's my first rodeo."