In order to keep players healthy and on the field over the course of the season, something that has been a struggle for the Washington Nationals over the last few seasons, new manager Dusty Baker said it was important to find the right opportunities for the regulars to rest so they can make it through the grind of the 162-game campaign and remain productive.
"The best way to do that is to ensure you have a good bench, that you don't lose a whole lot when you do give them days off," he told reporters at the Winter Meetings in December.
"I know how to run this race. I know what it takes as a player and a coach and a manager, and it's a long race. It starts before you even get to Spring Training. You've got to train for the race. That's what we're in the process of doing."
With the Nationals' pitchers, catchers and a number of position players now at the team's training facilities in Viera, Florida, Baker talked again on Sunday about how important his bench and the composition of it will be to the Nats' chances for success in 2016.
"You want as deep a bench as you can," Baker told reporters, "not only for injuries, but in case you want to give days off so they can be strong down the stretch. You want as many options as possible. Guys that can possibly play more than one outfield position or guys that can play more than one infield position.
"You want to have left and right-hand candidates that I can call upon to hopefully get the opposing manager in the crossfire so he'll have to make a decision on who to put on the mound. Preferably, if we had a switch hitter or two, that's like having 26 players or 27 players, so you want some speed in case you have to pinch run for somebody.
"You want some potential guys, the great teams I was on you had some speed, you have some contact guys on the bench and you had some guys that can hit that two or three-run homer to put you back into the game or out of reach in the game. There are no perfect teams, but you want as many options as possible."
It's his job, Baker said, to gauge how players are feeling by watching them, learning to recognize the individual signs of fatigue and earning their trust so they know that he's making decisions with their best interest in mind.
"I've learned it starts in the offseason and it goes from the offseason to Spring Training and then you can underplay them or you can overplay them in Spring Training," Baker explained.
"I've been in almost every scenario and so what I've learned is the guys have to trust you as much as anything. You have to trust me in as much as I know what's good for you, even if you think you know what's good for you."
"You can help prevent injuries by -- because a lot of the injuries happen when guys are tired," he said, "when they're fatigued, especially in the case of hamstrings, or quads. And you have to kind of know the signs. I can see you limping a little bit, or if something is wrong.
"Anybody that's played a lot can kind of tell. I can see your gait's changed a little bit or your arm slot has changed some and that's why I think [GM Mike Rizzo] and [Assistant GM] Bob Miller kind of wanted to load us up as much as possible to prevent injuries, but I've always warned not to load up too much because then if you don't have injuries, then you've got a bunch of guys that you don't get enough work to start the season.
"Or you don't get a true assessment... It's tough down here, because we don't share a stadium with anybody. It's going to be a lot easier next year, we share a stadium with Houston, so we can have a 'B' game almost every day and I believe in sending my big boys over some days just to hit, to DH nine times in a game when you have a condensed day."
While the position battle at short has received a lot of attention this winter and early this Spring, and there are some decisions to make in the bullpen, one of the more interesting things Baker will be tasked with sorting out is the mix in the Nationals' outfield.
Could he go with a four-man rotation, mixing and matching with Jayson Werth, Ben Revere, Michael Taylor and Bryce Harper according to matchups and availability? Who is going to be on the bench? How will he find the at bats to keep everyone sharp and get the most he can out of the talent the Nationals have assembled?
"It depends. It depends on how many days we have off in April," he said. "It depends on who we're facing. It depends on day/night. It depends on the condition and the health of who the outfielders are. We'll probably use all of ours. Late game double-switches. Late game -- possibly to give Werth a few innings off here or put somebody over there if we've got a day game the next day. All these innings add up on your body over the course of time.
"Being a former position player, I know how to run this race and being a manager, I know that this is a long race and it's how you run this race and how you condition the guys at the start. I mean, granted, you would like to win in April, but that doesn't happen too much. I think I've been on one team that ran away in April and I think that was our '77 Dodger team that Ron Cey hit whatever it was, 10-12 home runs and we ran away and hid but that don't happen too much. But, you're going to need all these guys and I can't stress enough of how health is the no.1 issue. Health and how you take care of yourself, how you condition, how you eat. You can't put no low-octane gas in a Maserati."