Facing Nats, Baker happy to see club's success

February 22nd, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla . -- After a seven-game showdown, the Nationals are very familiar with the Astros from their 2019 World Series matchup. This year, another well-known face has been added to Houston’s dugout for Saturday’s Spring Training opener at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Dusty Baker, who managed the Nats for the 2016 and ‘17 seasons, was hired at the helm of the Astros on Jan. 29. He stepped in after AJ Hinch was fired following the findings of Major League Baseball's sign-stealing investigation.

“I got like four former teams now,” Baker said Friday. “This ain’t my first time, but I was really close to some of those guys, most of them. I’ve talked to quite a few of them and [I am] looking forward to seeing them, actually, from the trainers to the clubhouse guys to the traveling secretary to everybody. I spent some quality time with them. It wasn’t as long as I had wanted it, but it was quality time, and so I’m excited about seeing them.”

Baker, 70, also managed the Giants, Cubs and Reds over a 22-season span from 1993-2017. He accumulated a record of 1,863-1,636 and won a National League pennant with the 2002 Giants. Baker was only two seasons removed from the Nationals when they won their first World Series title last fall.

“I was happy for them, especially Zim [Ryan Zimmerman] because he’s been there since the beginning and been through some tough times,” Baker said. “And [Max] Scherzer has been there a couple of times. I was glad for them. I was really, really glad for them. [Manager] Davey [Martinez] used to play for me in San Francisco, and I was proud of Davey.”

The Nationals and Astros train at the same Spring Training complex, which means any carryover World Series celebrations are happening in Houston’s backyard.

“Somebody sent me some video of the parade they had on Clematis Street, and [GM Mike] Rizzo looked extremely happy,” Baker said. “I was glad for him. He had his Red Auerbach victory cigar riding down the street and had his [championship] belt on.

“Glad for them, but hoping it’s us this year.”

26th man candidate

was slated as designated hitter on Saturday and catcher on Sunday, but he is out of the lineup because of right shoulder soreness.

“I told him, ‘It’s Feb. 22. Let’s take care of it. I’ll give you a few days and see where you’re at,’” Martinez said.

Martinez moved into the DH role for the Spring Training opener. Stevenson made adjustments this offseason in preparing for his fourth Major League season.

“Train[ed] a little bit harder to be used to that long schedule,” he said. “I might have done a few more reps, a few more sprints, kind of try to ramp it up a little bit. That was my mindset going into this.”

The lefty hit .367/.486/.467 in 30 games for the Nationals in 2019 and appeared in one playoff game. He also slashed .316/.362/.466 with seven home runs in 93 Minor League contests. Martinez views Stevenson as the Nationals’ fifth outfielder, and would like him to play more center field this season.

“I loved the way he swung the bat last year for us. He had some huge pinch hits,” Martinez said. “We really like him. I mean, a lot. I like him a lot. ... He comes here with a chance to be that 26th man.”

Up next

The Nationals will play split-squad games Sunday against the Astros at home and the Marlins in Jupiter with right-handers on the mound. will start the game in West Palm Beach, and will travel to Jupiter. Both players, along with Joe Ross, are in the running to be the Nationals’ fifth starter. The games begin at 1:05 p.m. ET and will be available on Gameday Audio.

Brian McTaggart contributed to this story.