VIERA, Fla — Dusty Baker doesn’t believes in jinxes. But even as he talked about the Nationals’ relatively healthy spring, he still tapped on his wooden fungo bat. “We’ve done outstanding,” he said.
The Nationals’ 2015 season of much promise was undermined by injuries. By opening day, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Casey Janssen and Anthony Rendon were on the disabled list, and Stephen Strasburg was nursing an injury. With five games left before the 2016 opener — and only three in Florida — the Nationals have stayed on the field.
Baker has kept a close eye on Werth’s shoulder and wrist, and Ryan Zimmerman, who was slowly eased into spring training games because of his chronic plantar fasciitis. Bronson Arroyo did suffer shoulder inflammation during spring, but he had much to prove about his health to make the team anyway. Other injuries have been minor: Blake Treinen’s finger, Matt Belisle’s calf or Brendan Ryan’s oblique. There are no other known significant injuries.
“I have to commend the guys that are coming in, working, stretching, the post-game workouts, the guys are running when they come out of the game like they’re supposed to do,” Baker said. “And I’ve got to commend the fitness and the medical staff, for getting these guys ready pre- and postgame.”
The Nationals overhauled their medical staff this winter and it might be too early in the season to detail their impact. The true test will be during the season — and in future seasons — to see how their methods of injury prevention take hold.
Baker has his own ideas on how to keep players fresh. He subscribes to a philosophy taught to him by Hank Aaron, who believed in taking two non-scheduled days off a month so that a player can play about 150 games a season. And based on his own experience as a player (19 years) and manager (20 years), he has learned how to push players and when to back off.
“This is really where the dilemma comes in, and where my expertise comes in,” he said. “If a guy’s hot, you don’t tend to give him a day off. Just what I’ve been told, and this is how it was for us: If you’re hot, you ride that surfboard all the way to the beach and then jump off the bridge. If things are going bad, you might need a mental day off.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY: 7