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Getting to know Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker: Baker talks pitching, bullpen management

Dusty Baker's playing career started in 1968. He managed his first major league team in 1993. Washington's new skipper has a wealth of knowledge to draw on when making decisions and he talked about how he's handling the Nationals' relief corps this week.

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Jonathan Papelbon's first few appearances haven't been necessarily lights out, but Washington's 35-year-old closer is a perfect 5 for 5 in save opportunities after Wednesday night's inning of work against the Atlanta Braves.

Braves' hitters lined pitches to right and center for an out and a single before Papelbon got an inning-ending double play and his fifth save, and Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker told reporters after the game that getting the save, or the final result, at least in this case, was more important than the process, or how the right-hander got it done.

"Lineouts, they count as outs," Baker said. "I don't know, the key is to get the job done, but not the sexy way or the dominant way, I mean the key is to get the job done and that's what he's doing."

"Lineouts, they count as outs," Baker said. "I don't know, the key is to get the job done, but not the sexy way or the dominant way, I mean the key is to get the job done..." -Dusty Baker on some hard contact against Jonathan Papelbon

Baker is still getting to know his relievers, even after watching them work in Spring Training and early this season.

He was asked earlier this week if he likes what he's seen from some of the young arms in the bullpen.

Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero have embraced and been successful in the high-leverage roles they've been used in thus far this season.

"I'm very pleased," Baker said.

"I didn't see them before so I don't really have a lot to judge from or compare to, but they've risen to the occasion like it was nothing. A lot of it is about a mind set, really. And you can see them both gaining confidence.

"This is what pitching is all about, well the game, the sport, period, but pitching -- as much as anything -- is confidence.

"How you attack the strike zone, how you attack hitters and they're throwing strikes and they're throwing quality strikes and I'm hoping that they get better and better and better."

The feeling is mutual. At least coming from his closer. Jonathan Papelbon told reporters, including MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr, that he likes the way the Nationals' new skipper and his staff have been handling the relief corps.

"They’ve been managing our bullpen great so far," he said.

"I think it’s playing out the way it should be. It’s a long season, so we’ve just gotta keep plugging along and have everybody ready for each day."

Baker has been doing this for a long time, of course. He debuted in the majors as a 19-year-old in 1968, managed his first major league team in 1993, and is now eight games into his 21st season on the bench as a major league skipper.

Earlier this week, he was asked if his approach to handling relievers has changed much since he first started his second career in the game.

"This is what pitching is all about, well the game, the sport, period, but pitching -- as much as anything -- is confidence. How you attack the strike zone, how you attack hitters..." -Dusty Baker on the role of confidence in pitchers' success

"No, not much. I mean... no not much," Baker said.

"Maybe try not to get them up as early maybe. And I had a very good pitching coach to start with, in Dick Pole, he was my pitching coach, and also the man that I learned from while I was on his staff, [Giants' manager] Roger Craig.

"And also some of the players I played with," Baker continued. "I'd ask questions of Don Sutton. Tommy John helped me out a lot, because I'd ask questions about a lot of things.

"Tommy John told me if a guy is a seven-inning pitcher and he has a rough inning 1-5, then he's no longer a seven-inning pitcher, he's a six-inning pitcher or if he has a high pitch count somewhere along the line, then if he's an eight-inning pitcher, now he's a seven or how many stressful innings a guy might have.

"All that kind of goes into the equation.

"I haven't told many people that because they don't think most hitters have knowledge of pitching.

"But if you were a pretty good hitter, if you didn't have knowledge of pitching then you weren't going to be a good hitter too long or vice versa."

With all his experience managing bullpens and individual relievers, he isn't stuck in his ways, however.

An example? Baker was asked earlier this week who might close in the event that Papelbon is unavailable?

Papelbon is the closer. Bullpen roles haven't been abandoned all together, but he's been matching up before the ninth and he's open to the idea of matchups when it comes to potential backup closers.

"I don't know if there is a top guy," he said.

"It depends on who we're facing. It depends on if it's right/left or whatever it is. Right now our guys would probably be -- guys that might have done it in the past, might be [Shawn] Kelley, it could be [Blake] Treinen and probably it could be [Felipe] Rivero."

A wealth of knowledge drawn from a long history in the game and a willingness to adapt to new ideas? Dusty Baker could be on to something.