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Nats spring training question No. 2: What impact will Dusty have?

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Nats spring training question No. 2: What impact will Dusty have?

This week we are counting down the biggest questions for the Nationals as they begin their 2016 spring training in Viera, Florida with their first official workout on Saturday. The fourth installment looks at Dusty Baker's first spring training as Nats manager...

The Nationals' downfall in 2015 was due to a lot of reasons and Matt Williams lost his job as manager because of it. Was it all Williams' fault that the Nats' missed the playoffs? Of course not. But there were several factors that contributed to his firing.

For one, William's inexperience showed at times throughout the year, especially with his use of the Nationals' bullpen and during key moments of adversity late in the year. He also saw his clubhouse dismantle with anonymous media reports that made matters go from bad to worse.

In comes Dusty Baker, who brings to Washington exactly what Williams appeared to lack. As far as experience goes, few have more. He's been an MLB manager for 20 seasons and has a great reputation for his handling of players, particularly when it comes to stars and their egos.

Time will tell if Baker was the right hire, but there are some clear objectives for him in his first spring training with the Nationals. The most important one may be bringing back together a clubhouse that had both private and public disputes last season.

The obvious one was between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon. Will the Nationals truly accept Papelbon back as their teammate after all that happened last season? More on that in our final spring training question tomorrow.

Baker will have to lead the way in turning the page for the Nationals not only as a team but as a franchise. Last year's issues went well beyond their losing on the field. 

Looking at their roster, there are few tough decisions for Baker to make ahead of Opening Day. He needs to figure out who starts at shortstop and he needs to sort out his bullpen. But the rotation and the lineup outside of shortstop appear set.

Will Baker lean more on veterans, or will Trea Turner and Lucas Giolito get a fair shot at winning jobs? The same could go for Felipe Rivero and Trevor Gott, two promising young relievers with no clear roles yet assigned to them.

One of Baker's most important responsibilities goes back to yesterday's installment of this series regarding expectations. He can set the tone for this season with the way he shapes the spring training message. The Nationals have seen overconfident comments in spring training backfire in recent years. We know Baker likes to share his opinion, will he say something that becomes bulletin board material for their division rivals?

When Baker was introduced as the Nats' manager last fall, he said he wouldn't make many changes until he was around the team and the coaching staff in spring training. This spring will be an evaluation period for Baker. Though his true impact will not be felt until the regular season, it will be interesting to hear what he thinks of his team by the time they break camp for D.C.

Nats spring training question No. 5: Who plays shortstop?

Nats spring training question No. 4: Enough starting pitching?

Nats spring training question No. 3: Can they catch the Mets?

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Kendrick carted off with injury in Nats 4-1 loss to Dodgers

Kendrick carted off with injury in Nats 4-1 loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON -- Ross Stripling struck out a career-high nine in six innings, Max Muncy drove in two runs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 in the opener of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.

The Nationals suffered a potentially significant injury when Howie Kendrick went to the ground after catching Muncy's sacrifice fly to deep left in the eighth. Kendrick, who's hitting a team-leading .303, put no weight on his right leg and was taken off the field on a cart:

Stripling (1-1) struck out the side in the first inning and then fanned the final five batters he faced, getting Bryce Harper during each of those stretches, in the longest and best of his four starts this season. He allowed one run on four hits, walking none.

Stripling made 11 relief appearances, allowing one run in 15 1/3 innings, before moving into the Dodgers' rotation.

Joc Pederson and Logan Forsythe had two hits apiece for Los Angeles, which won its second straight after losing nine of its previous 10.

The Nationals lost for the first time since May 9. Washington had not played a full game since Sunday night in Arizona because of rain that has lingered over the Mid-Atlantic. One game against the Yankees was suspended in the sixth inning and another was postponed, and Friday's game against Los Angeles also was washed out.

Pederson led off the game with a triple off Tanner Roark (2-4) and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yasmani Grandal. Forsythe doubled in the second, breaking an 0-for-12 skid that stretched to April 14 and included a 26-game stint on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He singled in the fifth and scored on a grounder by Cody Bellinger.

Harper wore eyeglasses with clear plastic frames during his first at-bat, when he struck out swinging. He ditched the specs his second time up and drove in the Nationals' only run with a single to center.

Roark allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

J.T. Chargois worked the seventh, Josh Fields pitched the eighth and Kenley Jansen threw a perfect ninth for his seventh save in nine opportunities.

Muncy, who struck out looking his first two at-bats, drove in the Dodgers' third run with a double in the sixth. His deep flyball to left in the eighth scored Justin Turner.

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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Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

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USA TODAY Sports

Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles Dodgers travel to Washington on Friday to take on a Nationals team that was rolling before rain idled them for most of the week.

On Thursday, the Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak with one of their best games of the season.

Justin Turner, who returned from the disabled list this week, tied a career high with five RBIs and Kenta Maeda threw eight scoreless innings in a 7-0 win over the Miami Marlins. Turner provided a three-run double in the third inning and a two-run double in the fourth.

"As a collective group, we've done a good job of getting people on base -- we just haven't had that timely hit," Matt Kemp told the Los Angeles Times. "We got one of our best hitters back, and he had a big day for us today. I think it relaxed everybody, and you saw some good things today."

Building on that momentum won't be easy on Friday as the Dodgers (17-26) face a well-rested Nationals team that has won 13 of its last 15 games and starter Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.69).

Washington (24-18) has played 5 1/2 innings of baseball since Monday due to rain in the Washington area.

Scherzer had been slated to pitch against the Yankees Wednesday on normal rest. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is making a strong case for No. 3.

He has won six straight decisions and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any start. Scherzer leads the majors with 14 strikeouts per nine innings and has held opponents to a .116 batting average in four home starts this season.

"I think what separates Max is his competitiveness, the fire and energy that he pitches with, almost imposing his will at times on hitters. He's just in attack mode all the time," closer Sean Doolittle told the Washington Post.

Ross Stripling (0-1, 2.20 ERA), filling the injured Clayton Kershaw's spot in the rotation, pitches for Los Angeles. He is 0-1 lifetime in two games against Washington with a 21.60 ERA.

In his last start, he left with the lead after allowing two runs on six hits, with a career-high seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of a loss to the Reds. Stripling batted in the fifth and was lifted in the sixth, only to watch the bullpen lose the lead in that inning.

"This was the first time Ross pitched into the sixth inning," manager Dave Roberts told mlb.com. "Up to 79 pitches, more than he's ever thrown, got a guy (JT Chargois) you're comfortable getting (Eugenio) Suarez out and it just didn't work out. We just didn't get it done."

Washington's light week was a gift for the back of the Nationals bullpen, including Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and closer Doolittle, all of whom are on pace for career highs in appearances.

"Take 'em all," Kintzler told the Washington Post regarding the days off. "We need 'em."

Somebody who will be getting more days off than they want is catcher Matt Wieters, who had surgery Wednesday to repair his left hamstring, a procedure that could keep him out at least until the latter part of the season.

Backup Pedro Severino is hitting .274 with a .386 on-base percentage.

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