- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dusty Baker was asked so many questions this week related to the mountain of Washington Nationals’ injuries, he couldn’t help but crack a joke.

“You guys think I’m ‘Dr. Baker,’ but I’m not,” he said, telling reporters he makes decisions based on what the doctors and trainers tell him.

The Nationals manager hasn’t gone to medical school, but he has had to perform surgery on his lineups this season. The Nationals, as of July 23, have had 443 games lost due to injury — forcing Baker to adapt without some of the team’s supporting pieces.

Still, Baker has mostly held the line on touching the 3-4-5-6 combination of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon. Those four have been the crux of the Nationals’ offensive production, and Baker is unwilling to mess with the formula unless it is for scheduled off days.

Theoretically, Baker could move Rendon into the second hitter’s spot instead of shortstop Wilmer Difo. Difo, who has batted mostly second since Michael A. Taylor’s injury, is hitting .265/.345/.367 in 49 at-bats there.

Rendon, on the other hand, has an OPS of 1.006 this season and a slugging percentage of .564. Batting second is also familiar to Rendon as he had 140 at-bats there last season.

For Baker, the issue primarily comes down to one aspect.

“Who’s going to hit behind Murphy?” Baker said Wednesday. “Murphy over the last couple of years has been our best hitter, not taking anything away from Harper. Murphy has been, if you don’t have some protection behind him, they’re going to pitch differently to him. … You can’t have everything. If you do, you have the Yankees of yesteryear.”

Baker conceded in a healthy scenario, Brian Goodwin and Difo wouldn’t be at the top of the lineup. Injuries, however, have thrown a wrench in that. To start the year, Baker envisioned Adam Eaton and Trea Turner setting up Harper and the rest of the lineup.

Eaton, though, tore his ACL 23 games into the season and has been out since. Turner has also dealt with injuries this year and has been out since June 29 with a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist. Turner received another X-ray on Tuesday, but is still a couple of weeks from returning.

Jayson Werth and Taylor have also been candidates to be at the top of the lineup, yet are both on the disabled list. Werth has missed 44 games and has a fractured toe. He is on the 60-Day DL and will be out until at least the beginning of August. Werth’s return has already been delayed, as the team initially thought he would be back for last week’s series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Taylor, on the other hand, has missed the last 13 games with an oblique strain. Baker said Tuesday, the outfielder could take light swings in the next few days. Taylor is batting .278 this year.

Baker could also just move the whole Harper-Zimmerman-Murphy-Rendon lineup up a spot, though he’s resistant to do so. He told a reporter who brought up the idea, “you could do it when you’re manager.”

Baker said he’s trying to do the most with what he has available.

“You try to do the best you can,” he said. “You try to protect this guy, put some speed up there, try to put some on-base percentage up there. … You’re going to have holes somewhere, and it’s how you try to fill that.”

The Nationals wrap up a three-game homestand Thursday afternoon against the Milwaukee Brewers.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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