Baker settling in at Nationals camp

New skipper leaning toward Scherzer for Opening Day starter

February 19th, 2016

VIERA, Fla. -- After arriving for his first Spring Training in two years, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was shocked how Viera looked. The last time he was in that city was in 1968 when he was in the Braves' Minor League system. Back then, Viera looked like a farming town. Today, it looks like a modern city.

"When I get here, everything is new. This just popped out of the ground," Baker said. "I'm very impressed."

Once he was able to get comfortable in his new digs at Space Coast Stadium, Baker decided he needed to talk to former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs about balancing business off the field with sports. Baker owns a winery in Northern California.

The Redskins legend was the right person to talk to because he, too, took a leave of absence from the game of football -- in his case 11 years -- before he decided to get back into sports. The conversation took place Monday. After the conversation ended, the two said a prayer.

"Mr. Gibbs was very helpful because I was trying to figure out who I could talk to and direct me. He knew what I was about to go through," Baker said.

Spring Training:Schedule | Tickets | Information

In his first meeting with the local media Friday, Baker said the first order of business is to make sure the team is healthy. After all, 17 players went on the disabled list last year, mostly for lengthy periods.

"I know it sounds like an old cliche, but it's health, especially with the track record the Nationals have had the last couple of years," Baker said. "We want to leave here ready and healthy."

Baker has spent the last few days in meetings, getting to know the staff and players. The Nationals made a lot of changes not only to their 40-man roster, but the training staff as well.

"When you are coming in as a new guy, it's premium to know the staff. You have six weeks to try to learn about a guy as a player and a person," Baker said. "You try to get it together as soon as possible without rushing at the same time."

Although he is trying to get to know the players, Baker hinted Max Scherzer will likely be his Opening Day starter, but before he makes it official, Baker wants to consult with pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Baker also said he is going to have his eyes wide open when it comes to the battle at shortstop between Danny Espinosa, Stephen Drew and Trea Turner. Baker acknowledged he has only seen Espinosa play second base. The last time he saw Drew was when he was with the D-backs. Baker has heard a lot about Turner from the front office.

"We want to take the best 25 that we can," Baker said. "That's why we are here for Spring Training."

Baker didn't hesitate when it came to talking about Jonathan Papelbon, who was suspended the final week of the season because of an altercation with Bryce Harper. It's clear Papelbon is the closer. Baker and Papelbon had a lengthy conversation recently. Baker didn't say what the two talked about other than to say he may go duck hunting with the right-hander.

"He is excited [about being in camp]," Baker said. "... I think it is going to be the most fun two years of my and their career, hopefully. I have a very good vibe."