VIERA, Fla. — Dusty Baker has told the story before, about the toothpick that is always in his mouth. The ever-present toothpick would probably be his trademark if you had to pick just one thing that makes Baker one of the most unique characters in baseball.

Baker’s father always had toothpicks, he explained, but his own reliance on them began with a bad habit. That habit, dipping, began with bad luck. Like most Dusty stories, this one is better told by the Nationals manager himself.

“After I played, I was a batting coach,” he explained. “We were behind, and players called a rally dip. I got a dip. It made me sick and light-headed, then we scored five runs. Then the next day, they said rally dip again and we got five, six more runs.”

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“I think the devil was in charge,” he laughed. “Then, I got hooked on dip. I started dipping when I was fishing, dipping when I was hunting. Then I said, ‘aw, I’m only dipping when I’m fishing and hunting.’ So I just did it like every day.”

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Baker went to his dentist, who told him the chewing tobacco was contributing to periodontal disease, and suggested he get Australian chewing sticks. A pack of “Tea Tree Therapy toothpicks” — mint flavored, as confirmed by The Post’s James Wagner — sits on Baker’s desk most days now.

“Helps me stop dipping,” Baker said. “Except, every once in a while, with bases loaded in the ninth, I’ll have both of them.”

>>>>> Pitchers and catchers worked out for the fourth straight day Tuesday. As he did for most of the first three workouts, Baker spent a majority of his time watching pitchers throw bullpen sessions, often with new pitching coach Mike Maddux nearby.

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“I’ve had some good teams, but these are the toughest pitching decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Baker said. “We’ve got young guys that are coming, some guys I didn’t know, we’ve got some veterans that I do know that are looking better than before, that are looking healthy. Bob Boone tells me every day: ‘This is going to be a tough decision.’ Yeah, you’re right. I wish I could take a team of 30 and have like 20 pitchers. Somebody’s going to be heartbroken.”

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After the Nationals added veterans Matt Belisle and Burke Badenhop last week, the clubhouse is full of pitchers young and old with reasonable early claims to a bullpen spot. Baker would not commit to anyone as a bullpen lock, but did point out Felipe Rivero.

‘That lefty out there throwing 100 mph, he’s got a pretty good chance,” Baker said with a smile. He commended the Nationals’ minor league staff for their handling of young talent, and said he thinks the relative lack of turnover in the organizational coaching staff lends itself to long-term success.

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“It reminds me of how the Dodgers were and how the Braves were for such a long time during their reign of winning,” Baker said. “That’s important. And that’s how the Cardinals are now. If they do turn over, they don’t make wholesale changes and they turn over with the same mindset and the same teaching philosophy of how they expect to play ball.”

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Baker called having so many tough decisions a “pleasant problem,” though he remembers being the last man cut — once a few hours after he had called his father telling him he made the team. Sometimes, he explained, players benefit from the initial disappointment, because more playing time begets more growth. He told another story to illustrate the point, about a good young player who got sent down, then worked his way back up for good: Matt Williams.

“I said to him, ‘Hey, would you want to go down Triple A and play, rather than platooning?’ He told me yeah,” Baker said. “…we sent Matt out and he went down and hit .380-something. Then he came back and he stayed forever. A lot of times what you’re doing for a kid he might not realize might be the best for him at that time, that doesn’t mean that you don’t like him or he’s not in the plans.”

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