When Dusty Baker took over as the new manager of the Nationals, he made it clear he wanted to play more aggressive on the basepaths. He said it in his introductory press conference and his hiring of first base coach Davey Lopes further demonstrated those intentions.
You bring in Davey for one main reason. He's known as one of the best in the business at coaching baserunners.
A 16-year MLB veteran with 557 steals as a player, who twice led the league in the category, Lopes likes to use speed when he can to put pressure on opposing pitchers. That idea was on full display in Monday's 6-4 win over the Braves.
The Nats stole three bases in the bottom of the first, matching a team record for a single inning. Another steal in the eighth inning gave them four, which is the most they've had in a game since Sept. of 2014. The Nats are now 6-for-6 on steals overall this season.
Baker feels his decision to hire Lopes is already paying off.
"There's something you can take advantage of off everybody, and Davey Lopes is the best at picking that up. He's the best," Baker said. "Davey sees things very few people see, that the young players, young as they are, I mean Davey's been around a long time, and he was one of the best at his craft when he was playing. So coaching does come into play."
The three first inning steals began with Michael Taylor swiping second after reaching on a leadoff single. Bryce Harper then walked two batters later and both runners were then sent on a double steal against Braves starter Bud Norris. Getting Taylor to third resulted in the Nats' first run of the game, as Ryan Zimmerman cut a sac fly to center field.
"It depends on the situation, it depends on what Davey sees, it depends on the score, it depends on how the guys behind him are swinging," Baker explained. "That old Temptations song 'run away child, run away.' You don't just run, just to be running. You run to advance a base or you run to make it into scoring position to make it easier to score."
Harper also had the eighth-inning steal and now has three total on three attempts this season. He's already halfway to the six steals he had in 10 attempts in 2015. Harper said this winter he wanted to steal more and so far he's getting his wish.
"Bryce said that's what he wanted to do, and he said he was glad Davey was coming in so he could learn from Davey," Baker said.
It wasn't just steals, though, where the Nats saw aggression on the basepaths pay off. In the fifth inning Zimmerman made a heads up play to move from second to third. Jayson Werth popped out to first baseman Freddie Freeman in foul territory, allowing Zimmerman to advance on a close play. Wilson Ramos then drove him in for the go-ahead run.
"I think it’s a good thing that Zim took advantage of 90 feet right there," second baseman Daniel Murphy said. "Ninety feet is always a big deal, and I think Zim did a great job. It’s easy to stay at second right there, because it’s the second out and you feel like a base hit will score you. But if he doesn’t do that, we don’t get that run and we don’t go ahead there.”
Aggressive baserunning can be risky and the Nats may see the other side of the coin at some point this season. But on Monday they used it perfectly to their advantage and showed what taking a few chances can do if executed properly.