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Nationals' Johnson wins NL manager of the year

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Photo - Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson won NL manager of the year Tuesday.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson won NL manager of the year Tuesday.
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was named the National League manager of the year Tuesday.

Johnson, who the club announced Saturday will return as manager for the 2013 season, led Washington to a 98-64 record and the NL East title. It was the Nats' first division championship and playoff appearance since the organization moved to the District from Montreal in 2005. Their record was the best in baseball in 2012.

The oldest manager in the majors at 69, Johnson plans to retire from field duties after next season but will remain under contract as a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo in 2014. He beat out San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy and Cincinnati's Dusty Baker for the award, which is voted upon by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Johnson earned 23 of the 32 first-place votes. It is the second time he has earned manager of the year. He also did so in the American League in 1997 with the Baltimore Orioles.

"I said if we didn't win the [division] they should fire me," Johnson said, recalling a vow he made during spring training last March. "I had that much confidence in the talent on my ballclub. So we did that, and I was proud of that."

It wasn't an easy season for Washington, however, despite that gaudy record. Johnson's club missed several key regulars to injuries, including slugger Michael Morse (lat muscle tear), who didn't play until June, and outfielder Jayson Werth (broken left wrist), who missed three months. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (shoulder) spent time on the disabled list, and shortstop Ian Desmond (oblique tear) missed 28 games in July and August.

Johnson did get lucky with the health of his starting pitchers. But he also had to manage a bullpen that missed closer Drew Storen (right elbow surgery) for three months and added replacement parts when Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge proved ineffective. And, of course, there was the Stephen Strasburg controversy, which was a distraction all season after the Nats said they planned to shut down their ace pitcher in early September.

But Johnson always found the right piece to put in place -- whether it was utility man Steve Lombardozzi playing left field or setup man Tyler Clippard taking over as closer or second baseman Danny Espinosa for a time playing an effective shortstop in place of Desmond -- and get the Nats through until most of their players returned.

"Injuries breed opportunities," Johnson said. "That's a tribute to the organization that they could do that. And the pitching held us in there so that we had a chance to beat anybody."

Johnson has a .564 winning percentage, second among active managers behind only Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees. He has taken four different teams -- the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Nats -- to the playoffs and won a World Series title in 1986 with New York.

Johnson joins Bryce Harper (rookie of the year) as a major award winner this fall for Washington. First baseman Adam LaRoche won a Gold Glove for his work at first base, three Nats won Silver Sluggers as the best offensive players at their position (LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg) and left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez is up for the NL Cy Young Award on Wednesday. So what's on tap for 2013?

"World Series or bust," Johnson told MLB Network before breaking into a grin. "It's going to be my last year anyway."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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