Baker using layoff to help players recharge

Baker using layoff to help players recharge

WASHINGTON -- After a grueling season of 162 games in 182 days, the Nationals now have a chance to catch their breath. With four days between the end of the regular season Sunday and Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers (Friday on FS1, 5:30 p.m. ET), the only question is how manager Dusty Baker's team will deal with its newfound free time.

Baker gave the players a full day off Monday before workouts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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"We'll maybe go over some fundamentals and take a couple infield and outfield drills, just to tighten things up in our game," Baker said Sunday. "I'm not going to work them to death, but you certainly don't want them to rust up in the meantime."

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The layoff comes at a good time for several ailing Nats. Among other banged up players, Jayson Werth missed the team's final two games due to back tightness and Bryce Harper has been nursing an injured thumb. Most of all, All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy can use these days off to recover from the strained buttocks that has keep him out of the starting lineup for two weeks.

Baker said he's hopeful Murphy will be ready to play Friday.

"We'll see more this week when he's at practice," Baker said. "Hitting's not the problem. We'll see how he responds in other facets of the game in our workouts Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday."

As for the rust that might accompany a four-day layoff, multiple players compared the situation to the All-Star break, when most players take a few days off from baseball activity.

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Murphy pointed out that Washington came out strong after the break in July, taking two of three from the Pirates, and shortstop Danny Espinosa said the time off before the NLDS is no different.

"We'll kind of treat [the layoff] as somewhat of an All-Star break as far as getting your rest and getting whatever treatment you needed to get done," Espinosa said. "We'll keep our timing, face our pitchers, get BP and everything. It'll be fine."

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Since the Dodgers face the same four-day gap, the teams will be competing on a level playing field come Friday.

Most important, there's one key man on the Nationals' roster who will be on normal rest for the NLDS. Ace Max Scherzer started Sunday in Washington's season-ending win over the Marlins and will take the ball again Friday after the customary four days off.

"I know how to manage that and go out and handle that, take the ball and be at my best," Scherzer said Sunday. "I know what I have to do. I've been in these situations before, and it's the time of your life. Everything's on the line. You've got to make every single pitch. I can't wait to get the ball."

Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.