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Nationals hire Davey Lopes as first base coach, ‘still formulating’ rest of coaching staff

Davey Lopes congratulates Howie Kendrick for hitting a single. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports)

The Nationals added another veteran coach to Dusty Baker’s staff Thursday morning, hiring Baker’s former Dodgers teammate Davey Lopes to serve as first base coach. Lopes was the first base coach for the Dodgers from 2010 through last season, and filled that same position with the Nationals under Frank Robinson in 2006.

Lopes, who managed the Brewers from 2000-02, played with Baker in Los Angeles for six seasons, and is his daughter Natosha’s godfather. Baker called Lopes “a longtime friend,” and said he will work with the infield and outfield in addition to his first base coaching duties.

Lopes won two World Series titles, was named an all-star four times, won the Gold Glove at second base twice, and led the National League in stolen bases in 1975 and 1976. He is known as a baserunning guru, often credited with helping baserunners pick spots, improving their efficiency. At age 40, playing for the Cubs, Lopes stole 47 bases in 51 attempts. Jayson Werth, who Lopes coached in Philadelphia from 2007 to 2010, credits him with honing his baserunning skills when Lopes was the first base coach and outfield instructor for the Phillies.

“Davey, he’s been a favorite of mine for years,” Nationals General Mike Rizzo said at Thursday’s news conference to introduce Baker. “He’s as good a baserunning coach as there is, that I’ve ever been around. Several of our players have a real tie to him. He was a player favorite when we told players about that, we were extremely happy also.”

The Nationals finished 27th in the majors in stolen bases this season, and bring back a roster that figures to have plenty of speed in Bryce Harper, Michael A. Taylor, Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa and potentially Trea Turner.

“We’re gonna run the bases,” Baker said. “I think that’s  probably something that’s last on the list for a lot of teams. Baserunning is probably the most overlooked part of baseball.”

Lopes joins Mike Maddux, hired Wednesday as pitching coach. Baker never coached with Maddux, though he managed Mike’s legendary brother Greg during his Cubs tenure. Two years ago, when Baker’s son Darren hoped to go to a Rangers game in Oakland, Baker spoke to Maddux, who was the Texas pitching coach at the time.

“I had a conversation with Mike at that time and he said ‘I’d like to be on your staff at some point in time,'” Baker said. “That put a bug in my ear, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to have a staff or if he was going to be available.”

Before Maddux’s contract with the Rangers ran out last week, the team gave him a window to negotiate with other teams. The Nationals jumped in, Rizzo said, and “discussed with him in generalities.” When they finalized a deal with Baker, Rizzo consulted him, and the Nationals were “extremely hard and aggressive” in their pursuit of Maddux, who agreed later Tuesday afternoon.

“He fit a lot of the prerequisites that we’re looking (for) in a pitching coach,” Rizzo said. “Dusty had a relationship with him and he really respected the way he did his business. He’s not only a mechanical expert with arm angles and tweaking of deliveries and that type of thing, but he’s a mental skills expert. He really knows the ins and outs of pitching. He comes from a great pedigree. He’s had great success. And he’s got a great resume. He’s a guy that knows all the gamuts, the whole gamut, of the art of pitching and he comes with a respect factor from the players.”

As for the rest of Baker’s staff, both he and Rizzo said the Nationals are still in the process of finalizing it. Rizzo did say that the Nationals “have not discussed” Barry Bonds — who played for Baker in San Francisco and whose father served as Baker’s hitting and first base coach there — as an option for hitting coach.

“We’re looking for the best and brightest coaching staff to surround Dusty with,” Rizzo said. “We have a good start with Mike and with Davey Lopes, who I love, and I think we’ll continue that trend of trying to fit the best people around Dusty.”