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Mike Rizzo wants to hear the Astros say that they cheated

Over there is the other side of the spring training facility in West Palm Beach. The Nationals share it with the Astros, adding another link, as though Washington beating Houston in the World Series was not enough.

Rizzo does have a lot to be excited about these days. His club is coming off a title. Pitchers and catchers just began working out, Max Scherzer is healthy and humming, and position players report at the start of next week. He had the usual housekeeping items to discuss while sitting on a sunbathed patio Friday afternoon: The Nationals hope top prospect Carter Kieboom can earn an everyday spot at third base. They are excited about their bullpen. They will soon have a chance to repeat.

But the Astros saga has hung over this sliver of Florida, and the rest of baseball, and put a small dent in Rizzo’s mood. He told reporters it would be the last time he discusses Houston and its electronic sign-stealing scheme. So he parted with some strong thoughts.

“We did it with character, dignity and did it the right way. We feel good about that,” Rizzo said. “The thing that pains me the most is it puts a black cloud over the sport that I love, and that’s not right.”

Rizzo, like star pitcher Stephen Strasburg, feels the Astros are hogging the spotlight at a time when the Nationals are coming off a World Series title. Rizzo did some loose math — counting the reporters who showed up to the start of Nationals camp — and was displeased with the results. A crowd of reporters descended upon West Palm Beach for the beginning of spring training. But Thursday, on the first day of interviews, most of them were pressing the Astros instead of praising the Nationals.

When the Nationals stepped outside for a morning meeting, they were watched by four reporters, one photographer and two videographers, one of whom is employed by the team.

“There’s 50 media outlets here, and 47 of them are for the Astros, who cheated to win the World Series,” Rizzo said, referring to the Astros’ 2017 title. “And there’s three here with the current reigning World Series champions. And that’s not right.”

“It’s disappointing that that becomes the talk of the offseason. Heck, we went out there and beat ’em,” Strasburg said. “But I think in a way that’s probably a good thing, because it kind of upsets a lot of us here in the clubhouse, because we did something really special and that gets overshadowed because some guys were cheating. That’s something they’ve got to live with. Not something that I would ever do. Because I think who you are as a person and how you play this game, and how you go about it, is so much more important than what’s on the back of your baseball card.”

Rizzo said he would never allow what happened with the Astros to take place with the Nationals. He has spent a few decades in the game — as a minor league player, then a scout, then a World Series-winning executive — and he said he sees zero place for cheating.

“This will be the last time I talk about the Houston situation,” Rizzo said. “This will be the last time I refer back to the 2019 world championship. We’re looking forward to 2020.”

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