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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”

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Buck Showalter says Michael Bourn is more than a fourth outfielder

Buck Showalter says Michael Bourn is more than a fourth outfielder

NEW YORK—Michael Bourn has brought a new dimension to the Orioles. In the absence of Joey Rickard, Bourn has brought speed and defense. 

Bourn has stolen bases in the last two games. 

“It helps. Mike’s got 10 years in the big leagues. He’s been in some playoff situations,” manager Buck Showalter said. 

Bourn was acquired from Arizona on Aug. 31, and he’s been very useful. 

“He’s not afraid,” Showalter said. “You’ve got to have that attitude.” 

Bourn has played all three outfield positions. 

“He knows what he’s supposed to bring, and he’s going to try and bring it. He’s going to let it rip. He’s got a little richer pedigree than some people might give him credit for,” Showalter said. 

Bourn, who the National League in steals from 2009-11, has also played for Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta and Cleveland. He played in the Division Series for the Phillies in 2007 and wild-card games for the Braves and Indians in 2012 and 2013. 

Before coming to the Orioles, Bourn played for the Diamondbacks, who were not in contention. He seems reenergized by the trade. In 21 games with the Orioles, Bourn is batting .250 with two home runs and six RBIs. 

“Of course you would think so,” Showalter said. “He’s a guy you’d like to keep around. He’s more than a fourth outfielder.”