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Davey returns to Baltimore

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Davey returns to Baltimore

He's been too busy managing the first-place Nationals to contemplate such matters, so Davey Johnson was taken aback Thursday when someone mentioned it had been 15 years since he managed his final game with the Orioles.

"Time flies," he said.

Tonight, Johnson will be in the dugout at Camden Yards for the first time since 1997, the year he guided Baltimore to its lone AL East title of the last 28 years, then abruptly resigned over a spat with owner Peter Angelos on the same day he was named AL Manager of the Year.

The Orioles haven't experienced a winning season since, but they'll enter tonight's opener of Round 2 of the Battle of Beltways with a 39-30 record, good enough for second place in the division.

"I think it's great," Johnson said of Baltimore's success this season. "The only history I know in Baltimore is always being a contender and a great team, great organization. And I know they haven't been living up to that reputation, and it's great to see them doing the things that most Oriole teams I've ever been involved with did."

Much of Johnson's baseball life has been associated with the Orioles franchise. He signed there in 1962, straight out of Texas A&M. Three years later, he made his big-league debut, then spent eight seasons manning second base at Memorial Stadium.

"I think so highly of Baltimore," he said. "That's where I broke in. That's where I chose to sign with. My kids were all born there. We won championships there. It was a like a family there."

In something akin to a family spat, though, Johnson's relationship with the Orioles for the last 15 years has been nearly nonexistent. He hasn't spoken directly to Angelos during this span, though he admitted he was touched when Angelos sent flowers after Johnson's 32-year-old daughter Andrea died in 2005 of septic shock.

Asked on Thursday to describe the current status of his relationship with Angelos, Johnson at first asked: "We have to go there?"

"I'm fine," he added. "I'm still an Oriole fan."

Johnson's only other managerial stint in the last decade and a half -- 1999-2000 with the Dodgers -- didn't coincide with any interleague series against the Orioles. And by the time he took over as skipper in Washington last summer, the Nationals had already made their annual trek north to Baltimore.

So tonight's game will mark Johnson's return to the Camden Yards dugout.

He has, however, been back to the ballpark once since he left the organization. In 2010, he joined ex-teammates and manager Earl Weaver for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Orioles' 1970 World Series title. That's his lone appearance at Camden Yards in 15 years.

"I haven't been back, not in any capacity other than a fan," he said.

Soft spot for the Orioles or not, Johnson's intentions this weekend are unmistakable.

"I know they beat us two out of three here," he said. "And I'd like to return that favor."

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Nats' Max Scherzer puts pitching arm to good use thanks to Alex Ovechkin's hat trick

Nats' Max Scherzer puts pitching arm to good use thanks to Alex Ovechkin's hat trick

Washington National ace Max Scherzer is putting his throwing arm to good use in the offseason thanks to Alex Ovechkin.

The pitcher and his wife, Erica May-Scherzer, were in attendance for the Caps' 6-2 blowout win over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night where Ovi notched a hat trick for the first time since Nov. 25, 2017.

In classic hat trick celebratory fashion, Scherzer threw his cap onto the ice at Capital One Arena.

Scherzer has always been a big supporter of the Caps. Back in June, the Cy Young Award winner and Nats first baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, led the "Lets Go Caps" chant during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. He even credited striking out 13 batters the following day to the Caps' win. 

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Nationals are receiving calls about Tanner Roark

Nationals are receiving calls about Tanner Roark

LAS VEGAS -- On Line 1 is a team interested in Tanner Roark.

They should be. Durable, trustworthy, rather effective, affordable. These are traits for Roark, even considering a down season in 2018.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has fielded inquiries on his 32-year-old fourth starter since signing Patrick Corbin. Other organizations wonder if the Nationals now have a pitching surplus. They don’t. For that reason, and the same ones that make Roark attractive to others, his final season before free agency is very likely to occur in Washington.

“Teams look favorably on a one-year guy that could help them,” Rizzo said. “We’ve spoken to a couple of teams about it, but nothing serious or imminent that’s happening at this point.”

Receiving a proper return would be difficult. Moving Roark would increase a risk of 2018 when the Nationals’ rotation picked up two injuries and went careening into a bad place outside of Max Scherzer. The high-end organizational depth at the spot is limited to non-existent. Washington will cross its fingers about Joe Ross or Erick Fedde in the fifth spot. It wants to move with assurances in spots 1-4. Dealing Roark undermines that idea. 

“We always talk about depth,” Rizzo said. “And to eliminate a pitcher like Roark, we would certainly like to strengthen that strength, if we were to make a deal for him.”

In other words, thanks for calling.

Taylor is wintering in the Dominican

Michael A. Taylor typically spends his winters in Florida. He’s spending a chunk of this December in the Dominican Republic, where he is playing winter ball.

Taylor knew at the end of a dismal offensive season he wanted to do extra work in the offseason. The plan was for him to get with hitting coach Kevin Long.

An idea came up: What about winter ball?

Taylor was reluctant at first. He’s entering his age-28 season with five years in the major leagues behind him. Going to winter ball is atypical for such a player.

But, there’s a lot to fix. Taylor’s voluminous strikeout rate and lack of overall contact have undermined his plethora of other abilities. The Nationals need him to make more contact so he can also be a problem on the basepaths. Taylor stole 24 bases in 2018.

The Nationals don’t expect him to be is a .300 hitter. Anything close to the .270 Taylor hit in 2017 would be more than fine. 

“Hopefully he hones down in his swing and puts the ball in play and help us out a lot,” manager Davey Martinez said. 

Martinez sees a path for Taylor to play quite a bit. Victor Robles will need breaks. Adam Eaton will need breaks. Juan Soto … not so much. But, that leaves room for Taylor to tag some starts as well as certain spot usage later in games defensively or on the bases. If his swing is improved, all the better for the Nationals. 

What is Corbin bringing?

Arizona manager Torey Lovullo watched Corbin for two seasons. What he saw was someone who adopted the gameplan born of analytics, added an effective off-speed pitch while shelving another, then turned into one of the top left-handed starters in baseball. 

“I think he was sent to the bullpen [earlier],” Lovollo said. “In '17 he started to develop a lot of confidence in a couple different pitches that he was landing at any time. And that's all that hard work that he's putting in behind the scenes to make good things happen.

“He believed in scouting reports. He believed in pitching plans that we put in place. And he was starting to have a lot of success that he carried over into 2018.

“When I first met Patrick, he had a lot on his mind. He was frustrated by a lot of things and maybe being a little bit misunderstood. I encouraged him to be himself and trust those around him. He did that. He had a couple of pitching coaches and really good catching corps that he developed a strong relationship with. And you could see it yielded very, very good results.

“So Washington is getting a very special player. We're going to miss him in Arizona. We knew that was a strong possibility that was going to happen.”

Interesting to hear is Lovullo suggesting Corbin wasn’t all-in with what analytics were saying about pitch selection. That changed after further conversations with the coaching staff. So did his results.

“I think at the beginning when we were bringing some new normals into the organization, the start of the '17 -- more specifically, in Spring Training '17, he was kind of resisting it and he was going to rely on some of the things that he was good at that worked prior to that point in his career,” Lovullo said. “But the more he trusted and began to develop relationships with very important people inside of that, inside of that pitching room, he started to see some really good results.

“So I know that, like I said, he delivered the pitches. He made all good things happen by him going on the mound and dialing it up. But he went out there with a lot of confidence, had a great plan in follow-up. Took some time for him to develop that relationship, and it became very powerful.”

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