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Baker on Nats' clubhouse chemistry, working with GM Mike Rizzo

Baker on Nats' clubhouse chemistry, working with GM Mike Rizzo

Before Dusty Baker took over as Nationals manager, he had heard the stories about their clubhouse, about how infighting and disputes both public and private had played a role in their derailment both on and off the field in 2015. 

Baker, though, has been pleasantly surprised thus far through 18 games in the regular season.

"Probably the camaraderie is better because all I heard was how dysfunctional this team was. That's all I heard. I haven't seen it and I don't want to see it," Baker said.

Winning, of course, helps. The Nationals have the best record in baseball at 14-4 and are mostly healthy. Everybody likes to win and the Nats have faced very little adversity so far.

"Winning makes it fun," Baker said. "And it's like any other office. If people get along then you've got a chance to be more productive and you're pulling for each other much more than when you don't get along. There's nothing worse when you're in an office where you don't like the people there and half of them don't like you. That doesn't make it very pleasant to come to work."

First baseman Clint Robinson also touched on the topic and said some of the stuff from 2015 may have been overblown, anyways.

"I think the negative comments about our clubhouse came as a result of us not living up to expectations. People, they look for a reason as to why we didn't reach our expectations last year. And one of those reasons was a dysfunctional clubhouse, but I don't think that was the case. We didn't play like we should have last year, but this is a new year. I think we have a great group of guys," Robinson said.

Baker has also been pleased with his working relationship with general manager Mike Rizzo. Baker didn't know Rizzo well before joining the Nationals, but heard good things from former Nats manager Matt Williams, whom Baker coached in San Francisco. He also spoke with Johnny DiPuglia, the team's vice president of international operations.

"What I've learned is that he's very compassionate," Baker said of Rizzo. "He's easily excited. He knows baseball from a player's standpoint which is different from most general managers that you're going to run into. He's a former scout and talent evaluator. I think about half my job is evaluating talent and what I think the talent might become. He has a heck of an idea. I really like working with him. He trusts me. He trusts my judgement on things, which makes it easier to work with somebody that trusts you."

Rizzo handed Baker a talented roster and the 66-year-old skipper is happy with how things have gone to this point.

"This was a good team when I got here. I'm just trying to help us be better without getting in the way," Baker said.

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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years


The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.


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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles


Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

WASHINGTON -- Presented with identical opportunities to ring up a big inning, the Washington Nationals took full advantage and Baltimore Orioles squandered the chance.

That goes a long way toward explaining why the Nationals are a contender and the Orioles own the worst record in the big leagues.

Trea Turner went 4 for 4 with a homer , Anthony Rendon drove in three runs and Washington extended its recent domination of the Orioles with a 9-7 victory Tuesday night.

The game was essentially decided in the fifth inning, which began with Baltimore leading 4-1.

In the top half, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored only one run -- when Manny Machado hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half and batted around, scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks. Adam Eaton contributed a two-run single, Rendon hit a sacrifice fly and Bryce Harper chased starter David Hess with an RBI double.

"They did a lot better job cashing in their bases loaded, nobody out situation than we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter conceded.

For the game, Baltimore was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 5 for 10.

"This team is starting to become relentless," manager Dave Martinez said. "They kept pounding and pounding and pounding, had a couple of big innings there and scored some runs."

The Nationals trailed 6-5 before getting six hits in a four-run seventh. Rendon delivered a two-run double off Tanner Scott (0-1) that made it 7-6, and Turner capped his four-hit night with a double.

Both teams noted that more than a couple of Washington's hits were bloopers and seeing-eye grounders, but the Nationals certainly weren't about to apologize.

"I feel like all year we've been hitting balls right at people," Turner said, "so it's nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win."

Washington has won six straight over its neighboring interleague rival, including four games this season by a combined 20-8.

Pitching in his second big league game, Nationals starter Jefry Rodriguez gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in five innings.

Justin Miller (5-0) pitched two innings of relief, newcomer Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth and Sean Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Joey Rickard while earning his 19th save.

Jace Peterson and Trey Mancini each hit two-run homers for the Orioles, who have lost 16 of 19.

This one can be blamed on an all-too-telling fifth inning.

"It's just one of those things where if they got hits they seemed to have found holes," Showalter said. "They hit some balls hard, too."