In deciding where to bat Danny Espinosa during his rookie year, the Nationals can use Ian Desmond’s 2010 season as a test case. The Nationals batted Desmond eighth for most of the early part of the season, a challenge for any player National League, but especially for a rookie. Desmond’s offense blossomed in the second half, only after the Nationals moved him up the lineup.
Following Desmond’s struggles batting eighth, the Nationals will apparently not present the same hurdle to Espinosa.
“If I made the lineup up tomorrow,” Manager Jim Riggleman said, “it would probably be Espinosa batting seventh.”
In the National League, of course, the difference between seventh and eighth is immense. Pitchers rarely give the eighth hitter hittable fastballs, less worried about walking the hitter who bats before the pitcher. Rookies are inexperienced and can be anxious, and the steady diet of breaking balls can be difficult to overcome. In 201 plate appearances batting eighth, Desmond had a .304 on-base percentage. In 140 plate appearances batting second, he had a .359 on-base percentage.
“Eighth is tough,” Riggleman said. “Eighth is just tough.”
As for today, Espinosa is starting largely because a left-hander – Chris Capuano – will start on the mound for the Mets. The switch-hitter Espinosa has not received fewer right-handed at-bats than left-handed at-bats.
Also, from the right side, it would be nearly impossible to foul the ball of his bruised right foot, which he did Tuesday night while batting left-handed. Because of that, Riggleman said, Espinosa will likely be pulled if the Mets insert a right-handed relief pitcher.