MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Johnson in mix for backup role with Nationals

Veteran outfielder looks to bounce back after injury-marred 2015 season

Johnson in mix for backup role with Nationals

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Outfielder Reed Johnson made it known Tuesday that he wants to make up for last year with the Nationals. He missed most of the 2015 season because of a damaged tendon in his left foot and a broken rib.

Johnson said missing so much time was tough to swallow because he couldn't help the Nationals get out of their funk during the season. But his injury issues last year didn't stop Washington from asking Johnson to return to the team on a Minor League deal. The offer came a week before the 2015 season ended.

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"[The Nationals] said, 'Hey, we want you back here. We think you represent what we are about. We want you to come in and have a chance to win a job,'" Johnson said. "In my 14 years, I never had a team -- besides the Chicago Cubs one year -- come to me early and say we think you are going to be a good fit for our team. That's an honor.

"I've never asked for anything, and I understand the year I was coming off of. I knew I wasn't going to be handed anything. I wasn't going to be given a big league job. When an organization comes to you and offers you an opportunity in Spring Training, I'm going to jump all over it."

Johnson has a chance to be one of the bench players on Opening Day. Entering Tuesday, Johnson was 3-for-7 with an RBI in four games. At 39 years old, he wants to show that his bat speed is still there and he can still play the outfield.

Manager Dusty Baker said he is not surprised that Johnson is off to a good start this spring.

"Reed has been the same Reed for 10 years now," Baker said. "He is a good player off the bench. He stays in the game, he knows what to do. He plays all three outfield positions. Reed is not doing anything other than the Reed I remember. He is in great shape and he can hit that fastball. You got to be able to hit that fastball off the bench. I'm not surprised by what he is doing."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.