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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”

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What's Juan Soto's goal in spring training? Just 'to make the team'

What's Juan Soto's goal in spring training? Just 'to make the team'

Nationals outfielder Juan Soto just turned 21-years-old this past October, but he's already one of the brightest stars in the league.

But as the left fielder enters spring training, his goal remains the same as it was just two years ago, when he began the 2018 season in Single-A ball.

"Right now, it's the same mentality; you got to make the team," Soto said. "I [came] here to make the team. I'm going to fight for my place, keep working hard, keep playing baseball the right way.

"I'm going to fight for my place, keep working hard, keep playing baseball the right way," he continued. "There are a lot of new players, a lot of new outfielders. You don't want to get comfortable. You want to keep going. I come here to play for one spot, and that's why I'm here."

Soto, of course, has firmly cemented his place in the middle of the Nationals lineup. He finished third in gold glove voting at his position a year ago. The 21-year-old is certainly not afraid of the big moment, as seen by his clutch three-RBI single in the NL Wild Card game or his multiple World Series home runs off Gerrit Cole.

A year ago, Soto slashed .282/.401/.538 with 34 home runs and 110 RBIs. With the departure of third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Nationals are counting on even more out of their left fielder, who's become the most feared hitter in Washington's lineup.

But for now, in mid-February? Soto is just focusing on the fundamentals.

"This year, I come to work on my swing, my defense, running bases, everything," he said. "Everything is going to help the team win."

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Houston native Anthony Rendon says Astros' cheating 'stung a little bit different'

Houston native Anthony Rendon says Astros' cheating 'stung a little bit different'

Members of the Los Angeles Angels addressed the media at Spring Training for the first time on Monday, which meant former National Anthony Rendon had his first opportunity to address the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.

As previously reported by the Washington Post, Rendon confirmed that the Nationals were aware of the Astros’ tactics ahead of the World Series. The Houston native said Washington had a sense of what every team was doing, but what the Astros were doing "stung a little bit different.”

"We were aware of it,” Rendon said. “We were aware of it throughout the entirety of the playoffs. We kind of have a sense of what teams were doing what, and so we can kind of just get a feel of what they might be doing."

Rendon, of course, played a major role throughout the regular season and playoffs as the Nationals battled to secure their first World Series title in franchise history. Coming off his best career season, he then signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels as a free agent this offseason.

The past year has been quite the ride for Rendon, which perhaps is why he was also more forgiving of the Astros than others around baseball. Rendon said he hasn’t lost respect for the team, though “you can definitely view them differently.”

“Everyone’s quick to hammer them down and just kill them,” Rendon said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror, and we’re not perfect people. Whether it’s a speeding ticket or whatever it might be, some of us are trying to get an edge some way or another in life. They happened to get caught for doing it. You can forgive them, but doesn’t mean you have to forget.”

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