The Dusty Baker Effect and the Maddux component

MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM had Dusty Baker on as he was making his rounds today after the Washington Nationals dramatic 16 inning win yesterday. Earlier, Dusty Baker called Ben Revere his “igniter” and said Bryce Harper “doesn’t lack confidence” and “Mike Maddux has made a big impact on our entire pitching staff” and the 14-4 Nats worked hard to get to this day off.

Here is my transcription of the interview:

CASEY: Here is our good friend, Dusty Baker. Dusty, [it’s] Casey Stern [with] Brad Lidge. What’s going on, buddy? How are we, Bake?

DUSTY: Hey. All right. We’re about to play Brad Lidge’s old team, the Phillies, tomorrow. Hey, Brad, what’s going on?

LIDGE: Not a lot, Dusty. It’s great to have you. And, yes, good luck to you against those guys. The Phillies are doing a little bit better, but good luck to you, nonetheless.

DUSTY: Well, thank you. Thank you.

LIDGE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, listen — yeah, it’s just great to have you with us because — I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of story lines going on with your team right now, you being one of them, and just kind of what you’ve brought to this team.

But before we get into that, let’s just — quickly, if we can, was last night’s game one of the — kind of the craziest, you know, with drag bunts and everything else going on from Oliver Perez — one of the craziest regular season games you’ve been a part of?

DUSTY: Well, that was the craziest. I mean, we always heard about, you know, come to the ballpark and on a daily basis you’ll always see something you haven’t seen before. Well, I’ve been in this game almost 50 years, and I have not — never seen a game played like that before. I mean, it was crazy. I mean, pinch hit homers, you know, guys thought that they had the game won on the other side, and then we were down to our last out, and then the ball is thrown away, and how we won it. So it was — it was certainly crazy.

I’ll tell you one thing, we left a lot of runners on base, they left a lot of runners on base. And it was — it was gratifying to win because, you know, we’re all tired today. I was trying to imagine how the Minnesota Twins, you know, whom — I like Paul Molitor quite a bit. You know, they’ve got to play today and, fortunately, for us, we’re off.

CASEY: Dusty, I want to go back to the ninth inning, because we were talking about this to open the show — I don’t want to equate Bryce yet in his career to Barry, but I’ve got to ask you about the similarities between the two because I wouldn’t be surprised if you get into these spots again and you get, at very worst, the unintentional intentional, because there’s no way I would pitch to Bryce Harper in a situation like that. And I know Jepsen has got great stuff.

Take us through what you saw in that at-bat from Bryce off the bench. And then, if you would, give us a sense of some of the similarities, Dusty, that you might see between him and Bonds so far.

DUSTY: Well, the number one similarity, that’s his extreme confidence. And these guys have great vision. You know, they seem to know what’s coming most of the time. And, you know, they have that controlled, you know, aggression. Right now, Bryce isn’t quite a patient — and he shouldn’t be at 23 years old — as Barry was, you know, later in his career. But he’s ahead of Barry at the same age, you know, in Barry’s career.

And the thing about it is, I mean, you couldn’t — you couldn’t put the winning run — I mean, the tying run on the base, and you’ve got the top of the order coming up, you know, behind him either. And, you know, you can’t hardly ask for a pitcher not to pitch to him because, I mean, these guys have never run from anybody most of their life, and most of these guys like the challenge of facing Bryce Harper, the same way they like the challenge of facing Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

So, I mean, that’s the whole challenge of baseball is getting the best out. And, you know, you tell your pitcher, “walk this guy,” well, are you telling him that he’s not one of the best? And so that’s the beauty of sports are the challenges that are going to rise up at any given time.

LIDGE: Well, Dusty, let me ask you about another talented player, Strasburg, who has had stretches in his career, quite frankly, where he has been dominant, but it looks just to me like, when I

watch him throw right now — he’s had this great start – he looks more comfortable out there than I’ve seen him in a long time. What are you seeing from him thus far this year?

DUSTY: Well, that’s a great evaluation. I mean, he’s much more, you know, comfortable. You can tell he has that quiet confidence. You know, he doesn’t say much, but this guy is at a point in his career — Brad, you’ve been there before — I mean, before, you kind of — you know you’re good, but you can’t figure out why you can’t get it together. And right now, I mean, this guy has it together.

And, you know, the pitch yesterday — you know, we were trying to stretch him, you know, one more possible inning, because our bullpen was spent. You know, we didn’t have — you know, we didn’t have Treinen. You know, we didn’t have Kelley yesterday. And so it was one of those days where people were wondering about, you know, why are you sticking with the guy? He was throwing the ball great. But that was a pitch that got — you know, that came back over the plate. It was supposed to be low and away on the outside and, you know, that ball finds the heart of the plate; it’s going to find the

heart of the bat. And I’ll tell you, he has been dealing. And he certainly — I told him after the game we didn’t want him to get a loss in that game, especially as great as he had thrown.

CASEY: You know, Dusty — we’re chatting with Dusty Baker — not only have we seen Stras come, but I’ve always loved watching Gio Gonzalez pitch. He’s a terrific guy as well. For him — and I understand this. I mean, look, he’s a real passionate guy, but sometimes it’s that kind of reining in of those emotions. He’s let innings get away. We haven’t seen any of that. This is arguably the best that I think he’s looked in any April to open a season.

A, what’s your take on Gio so far? And, Dusty, with both of those guys, how much of an impact already in the short time has Mike Maddux made?

DUSTY: That’s another good comment. I’ll tell you, Mike Maddux has made a big impact on our entire pitching staff. I mean, you know, he made an impact in spring training. I mean, he made it fun for these guys. He made it comfortable for them. He has increased their concentration and their knowledge of the game. He’s also helped the catchers. You know, he’s helped, you know, Ramos and Lobaton with the game calling. And he has a definite game plan every day, you know, per person. And, you know, I can see it and I can hear it, you know, in the meetings. And then the guys come out, you know, with a definite game plan. He helps them in between innings.

And Gio is very, very comfortable. You know, like, I can tell when, you know, the infielders go in when he gets a little out of sync now — you know, once we get into that routine and once you, you know, find that calmness — I mean, I think Gio is going to only get better and better and better. And, you know, he is my — you know, the team — our rotation, before the season started — he’s our only left-hander and, you know, you’re going to find these lineups that are heavily laden with left-handers and, you know, they stack them together — teams stack right-handers, so, you know, Gio is not that – you know, he’s a big guy in our rotation. And I think he’s going to have a great year.

LIDGE: Dusty, let me ask you a little bit about Jayson Werth. And I think for some people — you know, sometimes you hear people complain, oh, he’s not doing as well or whatever. But explain, if you can, to some of the fans the different things that Jayson Werth brings to the lineup night in and night out, even when he’s not at his best offensively. And obviously he’s picking it up a little bit now.

DUSTY: Well, you know, I mean, not only in the lineup, but he means a lot to the team, because he’s one of the real leaders on this team and, you know, the guys follow him. You know, and he likes that leadership role. And the thing about it is, like I’ve told people, you know, he’s like a — you know, like a big sports car that takes, you know, some time to get loose and some time to get warm.

And, you know, the kids, they — you know, they’re wide open, the younger players, in a couple of weeks, but it takes the older players, you know, a month or so to get going. But once they get it, they keep it for a long period of time.

And my whole thing with him and with Zimm — you know, Zimmerman, is to get them to the warm weather. If we can get them to the warm weather, their muscles feel better and everything — because their bones feel better. And I think these guys are going to have great years, and we just have to be patient with them.

CASEY: Talking to Dusty Baker another couple of minutes here. Nats open 14 and 4.

So you not only get to watch Harper maybe go get another MVP, but it will be Daniel Murphy hitting .400, based on the way he’s started this year. Hitting, like, .430 or — it seems like the post-season has never ended, Dusty. And I know you and I had a front-row seat for that, but is that what you’ve seen since day one of spring training? Did something click in October that maybe hasn’t unclicked yet with Murph?

DUSTY: Well, I didn’t really know him, you know, before. And, you know, my opinion of him before was that he was a line drive kind of opposite field, you know, hit it. And, you know, what I think has clicked is that, you know, he’s learned how to drive the ball, and he’s big-time confident and — you know, but he’s very humble externally, but internally very, very confident.

But the thing about him is he knows how to hit, and he has a game plan every day when he goes to the plate, he’s going to hit this guy up the middle, he’s going to hit him to left. I mean, it’s very interesting because he knows what he’s doing and, you know, he’s going to help, I think, some other guys. Like yesterday, during the game — the day before, he wasn’t playing; I gave him a day off finally. And I had Michael Taylor sitting next to him and analyzed what he was looking for and, you know, what he thought the pitcher was going to do to this particular hitter in this situation. And it’s like

going to the library. I said, Michael, go over and sit next to the librarian and learn.

And I think — I mean, this kind of thing is going to help the younger players and even some of the older players if he knows what he’s doing.

Photo by Laura Peebles for Talk Nats

Photo by Laura Peebles for Talk Nats/Dusty Baker and Mike Maddux coaching up Blake Treinen

LIDGE: Dusty, I’ve got one more question for you, and I guess — I’d like to talk a little about, you know, the position you guys were in coming into the season and all the expectations and the hype with the Mets. Do you feel like kind of being the team that was maybe a hair overlooked — it certainly looks like at this point — is that a better position? Does that kind of suit these guys right now? Because they certainly look relaxed and comfortable.

DUSTY: I don’t know. You know, I don’t think these guys are affected by what anybody says, to tell you the truth. I know I’m not. You know, people pick who they want to pick. Most of the time they’re wrong. You know, most of the time they’ve got to pick somebody because that’s their job. And so — you know, I don’t read it, I don’t think these guys read it. And it really doesn’t matter. You’ve still got to go out and play the game. And, you know, the only thing that matters is what we feel about ourselves.

And, you know, part of my job is to, you know, let these guys be themselves, you know, with some regimentation, but the main thing is just come prepared to play, you know, from the opening pitch to the last out of the game. And, you know, like, I’m really enjoying these guys. I think they’re enjoying each other, and we’re just playing baseball.

CASEY: Dusty, way out the door here. I know some people probably have not been to D.C.; they don’t think there’s actually grass and trees, so you found —

DUSTY: Oh, there’s grass and trees.

CASEY: I know you’re not in your home base where, if people go to Sactown, you’ve got a garden of dreams, and I know you take it seriously. So how have you been able to work on kind of at

least a quasi-D.C. garden? Because I know you were doing some planting this morning. How is that going?

DUSTY: Actually, I’m in Virginia, you know, not far from Reagan Airport. I’m in Alexandria, which I really like. I like this area a lot. There are a lot of trees, a lot of greenery here, and I have a couple of planter boxes that were here when I got here. And so what I’m doing, I’m just planting some tomatoes and, you know, some other items out here, and I’m hoping that it rains enough while I’m gone, you know, to water my plants, and I’ll take some of my tomatoes in or I’ll take them to the stadium or I’ll eat them right here at home.

So — you know, believe it or not, I went to the farmers market the other day and picked up some tomato plants to try to have some semblance of home.

CASEY: Dusty, so happy to see that your team is doing well out of the gates and that you’re enjoying yourself. Stay well. We’ll catch up with you soon. Really appreciate this.

DUSTY: All right. See you later. Good luck to you guys over there, too.

LIDGE: Thank you, Dusty. Take care.

CASEY: There’s Dusty Baker, off to a pretty good start, I would say, not only in his garden, but, most importantly, 14 and 4 on the field.

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