- The Washington Times
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Nationals manager Dusty Baker tried to balance his past with math when deciding on his Game 5 lineup.

Left fielder Jayson Werth, who is hitting a mere .071 in the postseason, is back in the second spot in the lineup. Werth said he felt like he had a “locked-in 0-for-4” in Game 4 Wednesday night in Wrigley Field. The lack of success suggested to Baker that the game was about to turn in Werth’s favor. There was also another layer to the consideration.

“Jayson has been a big-game guy most of his career,” Baker said. “So not being sentimental or anything, but trying to be a realist; again, law of averages is on Jayson’s side big time, again. You know, I’ve been Jayson. And so I might have had a fit if I wasn’t playing tonight.”

Werth struck out looking twice Wednesday in large spots. He led both teams with four runners left on base. The 38 year old is in the final season of his contract. He is also the team’s spiritual leader. Pile all those things together and Baker considered removing him from the lineup — presumably for Howie Kendrick — then decided against it.

It’s not just Werth who has struggled at the plate in the series for Washington. Daniel Murphy is hitting just .125. Leadoff hitter Trea Turner’s broken-bat double in Game 4 was his first hit of the series.

“As he goes, we go,” Baker said of Turner. “You see we scored our first run after his double yesterday.

“I don’t think he has much problem with confidence, not knowing — I think he has a problem with frustration, maybe, because he knows what it’s about and how badly we need him. So I mean, this is a valuable lesson for a young man. You know, how many guys his age will even have this lesson before they are 25? It’s going to go a long ways now, and in the future and the rest of his career I think.”

Everyone in the Nationals’ lineup will again be dealing with Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, a notable nibbler who makes his changeup and fastball look identical as they veer around the edges of the plate. Hendricks threw seven innings and allowed two hits and no runs in a Game 1 victory. Here’s how Ryan Zimmerman explained the challenges of Hendricks’ changeup and fastball despite the limited gap in speed between the two pitches (85.8 mph vs. 78.8 mph, according to Fangraphs):

“If you watch on TV, until you see the miles per hour come up, you can almost not even tell until they put 87, 88, 81, 82, whether it’s a fastball or changeup,” Zimmerman said. “You hear all the things: arm action, those things. But the actual action on the ball is very similar. You’re looking fastball and it starts where the fastball needs to start. It’s run. This guy’s been a good pitcher for the last two years.”

Washington has performed better during the season against hard-throwing pitchers as opposed to the control types like Hendricks. Baker was asked why. He was coy with his answer, simply stating the team has to make better adjustments.

On the other side, Gio Gonzalez will start. Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer are available out of the bullpen. The dream scenario for the Nationals is that they somehow advance without using Scherzer. That would put him in line to start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles on Saturday night. Baker said Scherzer could be available for an inning or two Thursday. Roark is likely first in line behind Gonzalez, depending on how deep Gonzalez goes in the game.

“You know, Max had the backpack on like the bullpen rookie guys do,” Baker said. “Probably filled with candy and bubblegum and all kinds of — I don’t know what they have in there. Looks kind of weird, Max getting ready to go to school again.”

First pitch is at 8:08. No Washington team in the four major sports has made a conference finals since the Capitals advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. Baker is aware and trying to change that downtrodden fact.

“Sometimes the reputation of the town in other sports, basketball, you hear about it; in hockey, you hear about it, just different things,” Baker said. “So you have to dispel those negative thoughts on your mind and just say, hey, it will be us.”

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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