Dusty Baker is tired of talking about his bullpen. But every time the subject comes up, the Nationals manager finds new ways to express his opinion and perhaps drop even more hints at the front office to address the club’s biggest - only? - glaring hole.
“They’ve all struggled,” Baker said of a bullpen that enters play today with a 5.02 ERA (second-worst in the majors) and .808 opponent OPS (tied for worst in the majors). “Which one would you pick out to replace? Cause I hear people from the stands: ‘Hey, Dusty, take him out of there!’ OK, who do you want me to put in? Because everybody at some point in time has struggled. Everybody at some point in time has done the job and done well.”
In Baker’s mind, the solution is relatively simple: Acquire a reliever with a track record of success pitching in the ninth inning, thus taking pressure off the hodgepodge of guys who have been forced into that role.
“I honestly feel that a bona fide closer would put everybody in a position where they should be,” he said. “Like (Matt) Albers, he had his first save after 10 years. Evidently, if he was a closer, he’d have been there before now 10 years ago. And all the other guys, we’re asking some of these guys to do something ... not that they’re not capable of doing, but we don’t know and they don’t know what it’s like. Cause that sixth and seventh’s a lot different than the eighth and ninth. For me, it was different. I didn’t like batting cleanup. I don’t know why I liked third or fifth, but cleanup I felt like I was supposed to be something that I wasn’t: a power hitter. We’ve just got to get everybody in a place, but that’s a tough situation right now.”
Therein lies the rub. With the season not yet halfway complete, there aren’t many sellers on the marketplace. And those that might be enticed to sell know they hold the upper hand in this negotiation.
“Because a lot of teams feel like they’re still in it, and nobody’s going to give up nothing right now,” Baker said. “And you don’t want to just go get somebody to get somebody, if you’re not really improving the quality above what you have right now. Plus everybody knows what you need. Everybody knows what we need. You write about it every day. Other people read it, too. It’s a tough situation, and I know (general manager Mike Rizzo) is addressing it. But for now, nobody is going to give you anything. Or if they give you something, they’re going to rob you for it.”
* Today’s game will be played under a bit of a pall following this morning’s shooting in Alexandria during a practice session for Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game. The game, an annual event, will proceed as planned at Nationals Park, but the impact of this incident is being felt inside the Nationals organization.
Baker, who lives in Alexandria, got a call this morning from a friend in California who heard the news and wanted to make sure he was OK. The Nats skipper had attended a lunch at the Capitol earlier this week with some of the congressmen who are playing and managing the game.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Baker said of the shooting. “I told my family: You always have to be aware of your surroundings, because you never know. Especially in crowds. Especially where there are important people around. We always see things happening from afar, but there are things happening domestically, too. I don’t know what the answer is. It’s just sad when innocent people get hurt.”
Update: The Nationals have issued the following statement about tomorrow’s Congressional Baseball Game:
“It has been our honor to host the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park the last nine years. This bipartisan event shows baseball’s power to bring people together. Our thoughts and prayers are with those wounded today and their families. We look forward to hosting the 108th annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park tomorrow evening.”
Update II: Major League Baseball commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. issues the following statement:
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Representative Steve Scalise, Congressional staff, U.S. Capitol Police and all those who were impacted by today’s senseless violence at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Major League Baseball is a proud supporter of the Congressional Baseball Game, a longstanding bipartisan tradition and unifying event that benefits worthy charities. Both teams have been practicing for weeks in preparation for the game at Nationals Park and we fully support the decision to play the game. We look forward to a full recovery for each of the victims and hope that tomorrow night’s game can play a constructive role in the healing process.”