One of the benefits of having a quality bench is the ability rest regulars without fear of a significant drop off. And with the way the Nationals reserves have been playing this season, Dusty Baker shouldn't have to think twice about giving the likes of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa a day off, as he did in Saturday's 8-0 win over the Phillies.
"They’re always prepared," the Nats' manager said of his bench. "That makes it easier on me for when I call upon a guy."
With the trio of veteran starters out of the lineup, it was up to Clint Robinson, Michael Taylor and Stephen Drew to pick up the slack — and they did so with ease. They were a combined 7-for-11 with three RBIs, punctuating what has been an explosive week for the Nats offense. And for good measure, even Chris Heisey notched a pinch-hit double and scored in the eighth inning, giving the usual bench crew (minus backup catcher Jose Lobaton) a hit on the afternoon.
"We're all, I'd like to use the term 'gamers', I guess," Robinson said. "We do what we need to do to stay ready. We're three months into the season now and we know the gig, so guys do what they have to do to stay ready and we're lucky enough to go out and have some good games and be productive."
"I think it's really good right now," Taylor added. "I think everybody's just going in there trying to do something to help the team. Not always trying to get that homer....everyone's staying ready and locked in."
Of course, many of Baker's reserves have earned the right to start occasionally based on how they've come up big in pinch-hit situations. The Nats already have eight pinch-hit home runs on the year, tying the single-season team record with more than a half of the 2016 campaign left to go.
So how is it that this motley crew — one mostly comprised of veterans used to playing everyday earlier in their careers — can come in cold and continue to perform?
"Number one, they work hard," Baker said. "And they don’t get caught off guard. Because if anything, you can always turn it off if you’re not called upon, but it’s hard to turn it on all of a sudden."
"Turning it on" isn't easy to do, but the Nats have found a way to assemble a group of reserves that have each found their respective niche and excelled. Of course, a productive bench is not the end-all be-all for a club with playoff aspirations, but it's something that could be an X factor should the Nats find themselves in a pennant race down the road.
"The bench is gonna be crucial," Robinson said, "just like it is to every winning team, and I think right now all the guys are doing a pretty good job."