JUPITER, Fla. - Dusty Baker was running late for his pregame meeting with the media, though the reason became readily apparent when he ambled down the left field line at Roger Dean Stadium alongside NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, another in the seemingly endless string of celebrities the new Nationals manager considers a friend.
“I used to go hang in his places in Fort Lauderdale back in the day when I was 19, 20 years old. ... And then him and Dick Allen were from the same area, so they grew up together,” Baker said, pausing to suggest to Clint Robinson that he go introduce himself to Namath.
“Big Boy, go say hello to him,” Baker said.
Robinson did, shaking Namath’s hand and gripping the legend’s left shoulder as a smile crossed his face. Baker later suggested that Michael A. Taylor and Chris Heisey say hello to Namath.
Lesson for the day: You never know who you’re going to see with Baker in the house. Should be a fun season.
The Nationals have been unsure of what they’re going to get from right-hander Blake Treinen, who starts today against the Cardinals. But Baker knows what Treinen needs to do to erase the memories of last year’s uneven season.
“I know, if I’m hitting, what I’d try to do to him,” Baker said. “And the right-handers aren’t the guys who give him the trouble; it’s the left-handers. He’s going to have to find a way to get these left-handers out. They’re going to load the lineup with left-handers, pinch-hit lefties if they got them. Just keep doing the same thing you do against righties, but you got to change your game up against lefties.”
Left-handed batters slash .377/.400/.471 against Treinen, and those numbers have to improve regardless of what role the Nats want him to fill - starter, set-up man or closer. Maybe it’s locating his sinker better, or maybe it’s adding a different pitch into his repertoire. Whatever is the case, today starts the process of Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux trying to coax different results out of the righty.
Here are some other notes from today’s session with Baker:
* Catcher Wilson Ramos returned to camp this morning after LASIK surgery on Thursday. But it will be at least a few days before Ramos returns to baseball activities.
“He said he’s seeing remarkably well already,” Baker said. “But we have to be careful not to get dust in his eyes and different things. Boy, when you see a remarkable turnaround like that, we have to make sure he doesn’t get an infection and some of those things. Post-op problems. He’s happy and we’re happy. And I got a feeling we’re going to be happier.”
* Baker isn’t concerned that Jonathan Papelbon’s absence will impede the closer’s preparation for the season. Papelbon left camp yesterday to tend to a family emergency, but is expected to return sometime today. He’s yet to pitch in a spring game.
“He’ll be here, we’ll get him plenty of work,” Baker said. “It’s a little easier for a reliever - for a pitcher, period, but especially a reliever - to get prepared for one inning, an inning and a fraction. I worry more about the degree of difficulty for position players who don’t get at-bats.”
* There’s still no word on when first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will appear in a game, but Baker didn’t sound hopeful that Zimmerman’s recovery from plantar fasciitis in his left foot is progressing quickly. Zimmerman is running the bases, but the Nationals are monitoring his foot closely and he’ll have to reach certain benchmarks before he can play in a game.
“Hopefully, we can get Zim in a game pretty soon - not pretty soon, but in the next couple of weeks,” Baker said. “He sounds like he’s doing good. I don’t ask him no more. I remember when I had my knee operation, I was in the same boat he was in, big-time. I wanted to get a T-shirt made up that said, ‘My knee is OK, so don’t ask me no more.’ Cause you get tired of people asking you how you feel. Same way as I felt yesterday.”