“Hank Aaron told me how to stay healthy and how to keep guys healthy, you average two days off per month,” Baker said. “That’s 150 games. If you can go 150 games, there’s 12 games where you’re doing nothing but occupying ink on the lineup card. Emotionally, physically and mentally. So that’s what I’ve tried to do, tried to keep my guys healthy.”
Baker’s lineup for Saturday’s game against the Phillies does not include Matt Wieters, Adam Eaton, or Jayson Werth, all of whom are getting those maintenance days off. All three of them have played in every game. Wieters did not start one of them, but pinch hit late. Baker said all three regulars wanted to play but were told to sit. Last Saturday, Trea Turner talked his way out of a day off and into the lineup. He injured his hamstring in the first inning and is now on the disabled list.
“He talked me into playing anyway,” Baker said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was just going to give it to him.”
Because Wieters, Eaton and Werth are out, Jose Lobaton, Michael A. Taylor and Chris Heisey are in. Taylor has one at-bat this season. Heisey and Lobaton have three.
“You go from spring training to those guys playing almost every day — your regulars having almost equal at-bats to your non-regulars,” Baker said. “Then all of a sudden the season starts and you don’t get an at-bat but every two weeks. Then you have to go up there and face the toughest pitcher on their staff late in the game. That’s not fair to them or us.”
All of them will wear No. 42 on their backs, part of Jackie Robinson Day at Nationals Park. Nike-sponsored players were given T-shirts for the occasion that read “Equality.” on the front and “42” on the back. Under Armour guys, like Bryce Harper, had blue T-shirts with No. 42 across the chest, intermingled with the words “thank you.”
Baker remembers Hank Aaron recounting the story of the time he saw Robinson play as a kid in Mobile, Ala. Seeing Robinson inspired Aaron, who inspired younger players like Baker. The Nationals manager said he watched every movie ever made about Robinson, and has a wall in the weight room of his house dedicated to him. Asked what Jackie Robinson Day means to him, Baker called it “no big deal.”
“Every day is Jackie Robinson day to me,” Baker said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in baseball and I wouldn’t be working as a player and I wouldn’t have this job.”