- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Dusty Baker wound up a winner in his debut as Washington’s manager when the Nationals roughed up top Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Blake Snell for a 6-2 victory Wednesday.

Baker last managed with Cincinnati in 2013. He made the 3 ½-hour drive across Florida for the Nationals’ exhibition opener.

“It’s best to get this one out of the way now. I saw parts of Florida I hadn’t seen,” Baker said. “But that’s OK. I came through my dad’s old hometown of Lakeland. I’ve only been there twice in my life, so I kind of felt the spirit of my dad coming through there.”

Baker enters his first season with the Nationals as the 17th winningest manager in major league history. He’s won five division titles and taken seven teams to the playoffs during a 20-year managerial career that includes stints with the Reds, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs.

He spent the last two years out of baseball, traveling and spending time with family - and watching baseball on television.

“This is not a break I wanted necessarily, but it probably was the best for me,” Baker said, adding that he missed the game a lot. “But life goes on. … I knocked some things off the bucket list. My last bucket list in this game is to win a championship.”

Scott Sizemore hit a three-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning off Snell. The 23-year-old lefty is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 prospect after he led all minor league qualifiers with a 1.41 ERA, the lowest mark for a full-season pitcher since Justin Verlander’s 1.29 in 2005.

Snell began last season with Class A Charlotte and also excelled for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, going 15-4 in a combined 25 starts. He gave up three runs on three hits and a walk in his one inning against the Nationals.

The young pitcher wasn’t discouraged.

“‘It’s spring training. None of it counts or really matters. It’s all about getting better and learning,” Snell said. “I’m working on my changeup, so I have to throw it. … If I don’t work on it, when I go into the season how am I going to get better? I ‘m not going to trust it and I’m not going to throw it. There’s a lot I can learn from (today).”


Nationals: Tanner Roark allowed one hit, walked one and struck out three in two scoreless innings. The right-hander won 15 games two years ago, but only made 12 starts in 2015 after beginning the season in the bullpen. It’s no secret he prefers being a part of the rotation, and Baker is giving him an opportunity to earn a spot.

Roark reiterated his desire to be a starter on Wednesday, adding he doesn’t feel any additional pressure to re-establish himself.

‘I think every year I’ve got to prove myself,” he said.

Rays: Jake Odorizzi only needed eight pitches to retire the Nationals in his order in the first inning. He struck out Trea Turner on three pitches, got Wilmer Difo to pop to shortstop and Matt den Dekker to ground to second base.


Rays: OF Steven Souza, traded from Washington to Tampa Bay after the 2014 season, remains sidelined with an intercostal strain in his left side and will not play in games until at least next week. He’s resumed baseball activities, but the Rays stress it’s still early in camp and they won’t rush him back onto the field.


Nationals: Make the bus ride back to Viera for Grapefruit League home opener against the New York Mets, with right-hander Max Scherzer getting the start against Rafael Montero.

Rays: Remain at home to face the AL East rival Orioles. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez starts against Baltimore righty Miguel Gonzalez.


“What hasn’t changed?” Nationals manager Dusty Baker, out of baseball for the last two seasons, said. “He who touches home plate the most wins. Simple as that.”

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