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Dusty Baker wants Nationals to improve hitting with runners on base

Dusty Baker. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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VIERA, Fla. — It is hard to assign any weight to spring training games other than as an evaluation of the process. And watching Monday’s 1-1 tie with the Astros, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker was displeased with what he saw. Sure, the Nationals faced reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, but he only threw three innings.

The Nationals managed seven hits and five walks but scored only one run. They went 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners on base. Unprompted, Baker volunteered his thoughts about it after the game.

“Boy, it’s a little frustrating when you have a chance to win, ” he said. “Strikeouts are plaguing us. I gotta get my theory and philosophy on how to approach that situation because I was always told that he’s in trouble not you. It’s a matter of concentration and desire as much as anything. It’s tough to watch sometimes. But it’s all over baseball. When you get bases loaded with no outs, you’re lucky to get one. We’ve got to change that. Big time.”

The majority of the Nationals’ futility with runners on base occurred with non-roster invitees — some of which are veteran players — and minor leaguers in the game, but they were also facing other Astros minor leaguers. Against Keuchel and Astros closer Ken Giles, the Nationals managed only two baserunners. In the sixth and seventh innings, Trea Turner, Jose Lobaton and Matt den Dekker couldn’t capitalize on fruitful scoring chances.

Baker said he learned his approach with runners on base from Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Bob Watson and Ron Fairly, players who sat him down and explained how to do it. He now wants to do that with the Nationals.

“It’s a matter of getting the ball up,” Baker said. “It’s a matter of concentration, more than anything. Because some of those balls aren’t strikes when they leave their hand and that’s concentration. I know they want to do it so badly that it’s counterproductive. We’ll get there.”

With contact-heavy hitters such as Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere added to the lineup — and Ian Desmond subtracted — the Nationals have the ability to strike out less this season.

>>> Joe Ross threw four solid innings, allowing only one run, a home run by AL rookie of the year Carlos Correa. Ross, who is making a bid for a rotation spot, allowed five hits and two walks. He was pleased with improved velocity on his fastball and some progress with his change-up. He threw his new splitter only once.

“He was outstanding, other than home run and he didn’t give it up to a slouch,” Baker said. “Joe Ross was electric today. He threw easy gas and easy strikes. I like some Joe Ross.”

Yusmeiro Petit tossed two scoreless innings while striking out two. He has allowed only one run over seven spring training innings.

>>> The Nationals made another round of cuts from major league camp. Outfielder Brian Goodwin and left-handed reliever Sammy Solis were optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, while left-handed reliever Nick Lee, catcher Spencer Kieboom and infielder Chris Bostick were assigned to Class AA Harrisburg. Infielder Matt Skole and outfielder Logan Schafer were sent to minor league camp.