The Nationals entered Monday's off-day in first place, a game ahead of the Phillies. Having one of the best pitching staffs in the Major Leagues is one of the reasons manager Dusty Baker is enjoying his first season in Washington.
Washington's next series will be against the National League champion Mets at Citi Field starting Tuesday night. MLB.com caught up with Baker recently to talk about the Nationals and the beginning of his tenure in Washington.
MLB.com: You have been back in Major League baseball since November. Is it what you expected?
Dusty Baker: Yeah. It's what I expected. We have a lot of good guys here. They put in the hard work. I also didn't know what to expect from the city. I heard good things about D.C., I heard about its diversity and how many people of color were here. I'm not disappointed at all. I've had a wonderful six weeks here.
MLB.com: What do you like about being manager of the Nationals?
Baker: I like the thrill of competition and the fact that it keeps my brain sharp. It keeps me older in some ways, and it keeps me young in most ways. My wife and son -- they like being in this position because this makes me happy and productive.
MLB.com: From Day 1, you thought the Nationals would be a good team. Why is that the case?
Baker: I have good players. I have good pitching, some good hitters and a combination of youth and veterans with experience. They have good leadership from above. I think it was big [to extend] Mike Rizzo [through the 2018 season]. He has done a remarkable job with the organization in a short period of time -- when it comes to Latin American players, drafted players, free agents and trades. If you do it right, it can be good for quite a while. It could be like the Dodgers. They would trade one older guy then insert a younger guy that was ready and then you sustain it, much like the Cardinals have done now. I could see the Nationals being in that position to be like that.
MLB.com: How are you and Rizzo getting along so far?
Baker: Good. I never had a general manager tell me, "You had a good game tonight." [Rizzo] told me that a couple of times. You need a pat on the back once in a while, but I don't need much.
MLB.com: But it's good that he gives it to you, true?
Baker: Yeah. I don't need it, but it's good that he give it to me. The world is full of criticism, especially in this job.
MLB.com: What improvements would you like this team make on the field?
Baker: We have some RBI guys, but they haven't gotten it together yet, mainly [Ryan] Zimmerman. He has been an RBI guy his entire career.
MLB.com: But you are not worried about him.
Baker: No, I'm not worried about him. Everybody else is, I'm not.
MLB.com: The one thing I've noticed about you is, you have been a patient man. It goes back to your days as manager with the Giants. If a player is in a long slump, you stick with him. Why?
Baker: I learned that over the years. I had a person that believed in me [when in a slump]. If you don't have confidence in that person, all you are doing is going back and forth between people. [Former Dodgers manager] Tom Lasorda showed patience in me [in 1976] because he knew I could play, but he knew I was hurt and I didn't have a good year. You learn from your past on how to be or not to be.
MLB.com: You have a series against the Mets starting Tuesday. Even though it's May, is that an important series for the Nationals?
Baker: It's very important, especially because the Mets were the National League champions last year, and I heard that they beat us pretty good. You have the young lions thinking they have arrived, and they have. Yeah, it's very important. You play them but so many games. These games count in May like they do in September.
MLB.com: Will you do anything differently in that series? Or will you do the same things you have done before?
Baker: You have to play the way that you think your team is capable of playing. I'm not doing anything differently. We have been pretty good doing it this way.
Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.