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Dusty Baker on seeing positive signs from struggling Nationals as NLDS approaches

Dusty Baker talked this past weekend about the positive signs he saw from Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper over the last few games.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Danny Espinosa snapped an 0 for 20, 10 K stretch at the plate with a two-hit outing in the penultimate game on the regular season schedule this past Saturday. Espinosa, 29, singled from each side of the plate, sending a line drive to left off Miami Marlins’ lefty Wei-Yin Chen and a ground ball to the right side off reliever Fernando Rodney.

Dusty Baker talked after Washington’s 2-1 win in Nationals Park on Saturday about seeing positive signs from his shortstop, who went on to go 3 for 4 with a home run and two walks in the series and regular season finale on Sunday.

He said he liked the infielder’s swing on the two hits that didn’t leave the yard, and suggested it was the key to Espinosa’s success at the plate.

“That’s all he needs to do,” Baker explained. “The home runs come when they want to, but you’ve got to mix in some singles and doubles in-between. That’s big going into the playoffs. We had some conversations a couple days ago about that fact and Danny is so strong, you just meet the ball [and] the fact that the pitcher is supplying the power, and all you’ve got to do is hit it at the right point in time of contact and on the barrel of the bat. It sounds a lot easier than it is, but that’s the fact.”

Espinosa finished the 2016 campaign with 15 doubles and a career-high 24 home runs on the season, with a .209/.306/.378 line in 157 games and 601 plate appearances, over which he was worth 1.8 fWAR.

Baker said he saw positive signs from Bryce Harper too, after the scuffling 23-year-old finished the season with an 8 for 27 stretch in which he hit two doubles and a triple and took three walks with 10 Ks in over 31 PAs.

Harper finished his fifth major league season with a .243/.373/.441 line, 24 doubles, 24 HRs and 21 steals in 147 games and 627 PAs, over which he was worth 3.4 fWAR, down from his .330/.460/.649, 38 double, 42 HR, 9.5 fWAR campaign in 2015, which earned him the NL MVP award.

After injuring his right thumb in the previous Sunday’s series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park, Harper returned from four days off to go 0 for 4 with four Ks in his first game back on Friday night, then went 1 for 3 with an RBI single off of Chen in Saturday’s win over the Marlins.

“That’s encouraging” Baker said of Harper’s single. “It’s encouraging to the fact that he didn’t have a very good day yesterday and like I said, he had to get the rust off. And it was against a left-hander and that’s who he’s going to see the first two games of this series against the left-handers. And to get an RBI single to put us on top and hopefully that can happen in the playoffs because most of the time who gets the lead early is usually the team that wins I think 70-75% of the time, whoever scores first, so that was big today.”

Harper went 1 for 4 with a walk and a run scored in Sunday’s regular season finale.

Baker said he thought the four days off before the start of the NLDS with the Dodgers would do Harper and others good and give them time to rest up and recover.

“It’s a good time for us because of [Daniel] Murphy and because we have other guys ailing,” Baker explained. “Especially some of the older guys, because right now you’ve played 162 games and almost if you don’t have your stroke by now it’s going to be a little tough to get it. Bryce has his thumb that he’s working on, [Ryan Zimmerman] has his calf that he was working on.

“Almost everybody has something, you know, so our training staff and everybody will be busy working on guys.”