Lopes has Nats aggressive on basepaths

New first-base coach hopes to inspire turnaround in steals

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Entering Friday night's game against the Mets, the Nationals had swiped 24 bases, second in the Majors this spring behind St. Louis (25), and they had only been caught twice. Compare that to last season, when Washington stole only 57 bases all year, the fourth-lowest total in the Majors.

It is only Spring Training, but the Nationals' proclamation to be more aggressive on the basepaths is already shining through. Credit this newfound assertiveness to new first-base coach Davey Lopes, whom Jayson Werth this spring called the best hitting coach of all time.

"I want them to be very aggressive right now," Lopes said. "I'd rather have them be aggressive than a little hesitant, I don't care if they make a mistake right now.

"I just want to get inside their heads where we want them to be thinking first to third, second to home, challenging the outfielders, taking advantage of any mistake that's available to us. ... I think it's just overall, a little different look than what they've had in the past."

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Lopes gained acclaim for his tenure as the Phillies' first-base coach from 2007-10. Philadelphia led the Majors in stolen-base percentage during that time, including a record-setting 87.9 percent in 2007 that still ranks as the best in MLB history. He spent the past five seasons with the Dodgers before the Nationals lured him to Washington to be reunited with Dusty Baker, his teammate with the Dodgers from 1976-81.

Lopes did not have an explanation for the Nationals' success running the bases this spring, but said he believed the results helps build confidence on the basepaths that can carry over to the regular season.

"But you got guys that want to run, that's the key," he said. "You got to have people that want to run, not scared of attempting to run, and not scared of making an out."

And Lopes cited two players who have specifically reached out to him about stealing more bases: Bryce Harper and Werth.

Injuries have limited Harper's aggressiveness in recent years, and even though he was healthy last season, he attempted only 10 stolen bases. Stealing more bases seems like a natural way for Harper to improve, even after winning the National League MVP unanimously last season.

"I think having the asset of Davey Lopes is definitely going to help us out, big time," Harper said. "I think it's just the confidence. Just the confidence he instills in the guys. Anytime you're on base, if you get a good jump and you steal a bag, and even if you get thrown out, it's always, 'Keep going.'"

Lopes said he believes Werth, who has the third-best stolen-base percentage of all time at 86.6 percent, can be a threat on the basepaths again this season, despite the fact that the outfielder will turn 37 in May. Lopes cited his own success stealing bases late in his career. At the age of 40 in 1985, Lopes stole 47 bases with the Cubs.

"Sometimes you become a little regressive, because you stop doing something," Lopes said. "Or somebody tells you you shouldn't be running because you're 37.

"It's a mindset. You got to want to do it, believe you still can do it."

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.