How Dusty Baker plans to keep his regulars fresh

VIERA, Fla. - One of the trickiest tasks for any manager is the fine balancing act of playing his everyday regulars as much as possible while still keeping his bench players fresh.

Dusty Baker knows how much that plays a role into a team's success over a full season. And he feels like his five decades in baseball give him the kind of perspective that helps make those tough decisions a little bit easier.

"Being a former position player, I know how to run this race," Baker said Sunday. "And being the manager, I know that this a long race. It's how you run this race and how you condition the guys in the start. You would like to win in April, but that doesn't happen too much. I think I was on one team that ran away in April. That was our '77 Dodger team that Ron Cey hit whatever it was - 10-12 home runs - and we ran off and hid. But that doesn't happen too much. You're going to need all these guys."

So it is that the new Nationals manager is already trying to figure out how exactly he wants to spread out playing time among his eight projected starters and five projected reserves.

Perhaps Baker's trickiest task will be managing playing time among his outfielders. Bryce Harper is the reigning NL MVP and doesn't exactly seek (or need) too many days off. New center fielder Ben Revere has played in at least 151 games each of the last two seasons. And Jayson Werth has firmly established himself, when healthy, as an everyday player over his career.

Taylor-Running-Catch-Red.jpgBaker, though, wants to make sure Michael Taylor gets ample playing time while also making sure his starters get needed rest throughout the long season.

"I just can't stress enough of how health is the No. 1 issue," the 66-year-old skipper said. "Health and how you take care of yourself, how you condition, how you eat."

Health has been a major concern for the Nationals the last few seasons, particularly in the outfield. They've been forced to give at least 500 plate appearances to their fourth and fifth outfielders each of the last four years, usually due to significant injuries suffered by the likes of Werth, Harper and Denard Span.

That fact was among the reasons the Nationals wanted to acquire Revere from the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever Drew Storen. Even though it bumped Taylor to a backup role, club officials believe the talented but inexperienced outfielder should still be able to amass 400 or so plate appearances in 2016.

At least, that's the plan going in. As Baker has come to realize over the decades, it's impossible to plan for every contingency that could arise over the course of a long baseball season.

"One thing I learned from reading Phil Jackson's stuff is that every race is different every year, and then you've got to kind of plot your course," Baker said, citing the Hall of Fame basketball coach. "How many times you plan something? I'm a planner. I can plan anything. Only thing, I learn to re-plan."

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