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Nats' Harper on Dusty: 'No other guy I'd want to be playing for'

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Nats' Harper on Dusty: 'No other guy I'd want to be playing for'

A coach's relationship with their best player is always an important one and all throughout this winter and spring there was talk about the dynamic between new Nationals manager Dusty Baker and his prized pupil Bryce Harper. There were so many storylines from their generational difference to the fact Baker has played with and managed superstars before like Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

It's early, and everyone's happy when you start a season 14-4, but it's already clear that Harper really, really enjoys playing for Dusty. Take Sunday for example, both in their interactions throughout the day and in what they said about each other after the Nats' 16-inning marathon win over the Twins.

Baker planned to give Harper the day off, but told him before Sunday's matinee he may use him for a pinch-hit situation if the game called for it. Baker, as he's shown a tendency to do, saw the future.

"I told him before the game I was going to save him toward the end of the game and only pinch-hit him because I told him about the time that I had put Barry Bonds on a day off on a double switch... he had a day off and we ended up going 18 innings, so I told [Harper] I didn’t want that to happen to him," Baker said.

Harper only got one at-bat, but he did a lot with it. Harper absolutely crushed a 3-2 pitch from Kevin Jepsen in the bottom of the ninth over the center field fence to tie the game at 4-4 and send it to extra innings. 

Yeah, Baker predicted that, too.

"He came up to me in the beginning of the game and said if we have an opportunity to pinch hit you and you can hit a homer that would be great," Harper said.

It was a surreal moment before Harper's at-bat, at the beginning of the inning as Jepsen warmed up by firing in practice pitches to catcher John Ryan Murphy. Michael Taylor was due up, but there was no sight of him. Harper was waiting in the tunnel with his bat in his hand, only to emerge once Jepsen was done warming.

The crowd had a slow-build towards pandemonium as they noticed the reigning MVP exiting through the dugout steps ready to save the day.

"I told him that, before the game started," Baker said. "I told him: ‘Wait for a time so the fans can go crazy and you can be the hero, and then I’ll take you out.’ I’m not always right, but I was right today.”

Baseball can be a beautifully unpredictable sport, unless you're Baker, apparently. And Harper also sort of saw this coming.

“He believed that he was going to do it," Baker explained. "That’s what impressed me the most. Confidence is not his problem. You know what I mean? Anything he does, he doesn’t seem surprised, and I’m not surprised. But I’m extremely happy, and I’m sure he is, too.”

After Harper's homer, he returned to the dugout and gave Baker an MVP-sized hug. They then joined in with the rest of the team rooting on the Nats as they played through an exhausting 16-inning battle with Minnesota.

It was grueling, but they had fun with it. Harper and his teammates wore rally caps for innings on end before Chris Heisey's walkoff homer sealed the victory.

"It was fun. That's baseball, baseball at every single level," Harper said. "If you're in high school, college, little league; anything. I mean that's fun right there."

"And to be able to have the opportunity to play for Dusty, that desire and that mentality that he brings every single day to let us just have fun to let us enjoy this game, with all the rally caps and all the stuff were doing... He just lets us play and that's what the game is all about... that's where that comes from make baseball fun again, right there. And those are the things where you can go out on a daily basis enjoy the game, have fun and he lets us do that. There's no other guy I'd want to be playing for right now."

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?

RELATED: 2018 SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.

RELATED: FORMER NATS PITCHER ARRESTED WITH MORE THAN 40 POUNDS OF SUSPECTED COCAINE

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

RELATED: NATS REVEAL 2018 SPRING TRAINING TV SCHEDULE

He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.

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