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Nats' Baker excited and well-equipped to manage Bryce Harper

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Nats' Baker excited and well-equipped to manage Bryce Harper

Despite their 83-79 record and well-documented failings in 2015, the Nationals' managerial opening remained an attractive one this offseason. It's a team that is just one year removed from winning the NL East and posting the best record in the National League.

They also have a pretty decent young player in Bryce Harper, who in less than two weeks is likely to receive the NL MVP award for his historic Age 22 season. Harper is a certified superstar and his career arc will be a central focus of new manager Dusty Baker's tenure.

Harper doesn't need much help from Baker, but the relationship between he and the Nationals' skipper is an important one. Matt Williams saw both the positives and negatives of that. Williams should get credit for Harper's development, but he also felt the backlash after a miscalculated benching early in 2014.

Now Baker will take his turn leading the Nationals and Harper, who has become a face of the sport.

"This guy is a player. He can really play. I love watching him play," Baker said. "He's come a long way in a short period of time."

Baker comes to Washington with an extensive résumé of 20 seasons as an MLB manager. Along the way he has dealt with many superstars of Harper's ilk.

"I've been fortunate. I had Will Clark, Matt Williams, Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds. Then Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa and Joey Votto. Now Bryce Harper. Hopefully... I have something that I can teach him," Baker said.

Managing players like Bonds, Kent and Sosa - and the egos that came with them - should prepare Baker for dealing with Harper and other Nationals players like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The 66-year-old manager can also draw from his playing days.

Baker was an accomplished player in his own right. He made two All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and three times earned MVP votes.

"The thing about it is, I'm not really intimidated by stars because I was a star. I wasn't the brightest star like some of these guys, but I was a star," Baker said. 

Baker, in fact, told a story from his playing days that was very similar to Harper's late season dustup with closer Jonathan Papelbon.

"I wasn't as good as Bryce Harper, but my first year in the league I though I was the cat's meow," Baker explained. "I got kind of jacked up by the older guys. One time I had somebody's hand around my throat. I was a little cocky too, but you learn. This game, sooner or later it will humble you no matter how good you think you are."

Handling star players is an inexact science, but Baker did share some insight into his philosophy as a manager.

"I tell them that I don't care how much money you make. You're not going to give me any of your money and I'm not going to give you any of mine. When the game starts, it's not about money. It's about whether I kick your butt or you kick mine. It's as simple as that," he said.

[RELATED: Did Michael Taylor show enough to earn a starting job in 2016?]

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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USA Today Sports Images

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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