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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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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

The Nationals just checked another box.

They have reached an agreement to bring back first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

The deal is for one year with a mutual option in 2020.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS with an 118 OPS-plus in 306 at-bats as a part-time player. He was crucial since Ryan Zimmerman spent the middle of the season on the disabled list.

The Nationals later flipped Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals for “cash considerations”, which made him little more than a waiver claim for St. Louis. The Nationals just saved the remainder he was owed on his contract following the Aug. 21 transaction.

Adams, a quiet professional, fit well in the clubhouse. One on-field tear earned him a T-shirt homage to his nickname: “Big City doing Big City things” that several of his teammates wore pregame.

His role will be the same as last season: insurance for Zimmerman, as well as a power left-handed bat off the bench who will receive the occasional start if Zimmerman is healthy.

Adams’ return also enables the Nationals to shop for a true second baseman as opposed to a hybrid player like Marwin Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has continually moved the needle from standing pat to hunting for a starting second baseman. For now, a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick is in place.

The Nationals' largest gap remains in the rotation following the trade of Tanner Roark. They need to find 180 innings in a thin free agent pitching market to replace Roark’s production from the last three seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the agreement with Adams.

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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