Jerry Hairston will play center field today for only the second time this spring, but Hairston in center could become a common sight during the regular season. Manager Jim Riggleman wants to give Hairston between 300 and 400 at-bats this season, and many of them could come as a center fielder, starting against left-handed pitchers.
The outcome of the center field position could determine Hairston’s role in center field. Nyjer Morgan would be
likely to play every day should he win the job (a prospect that seems less likely now that at any point this spring). Riggleman said if Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina wins the center field job, then Hairston could play center field against left-handed starting pitchers on a regular basis. The Nationals’ center field spot is a major storyline this spring, and Hairston could become a significant part of it.
“I like what Jerry can do with the bat,” Riggleman said. “He’s very athletic. If we were to open tomorrow, I’m not decided yet as to whether it’ll be Jerry [starting in center] if a left-hander is pitching.”
Hairston did not play center field once last year with the San Diego Padres, and he appeared five times in center in 2009. But he has plenty of experience. Hairston has played 119 games in center field during his career, including 17 in 2008 and 22 in 2007. Hairston can play all three outfield spots, second base, third base and shortstop, and he feels that his two best positions are second and center.
“I feel pretty comfortable there,” Hairston said. “Usually when teams go after me, they feel that I bring that flexibility, whether its center, third, short, whatever. There are only a couple guys who can play shortstop and play center field.”
Hairston is also batting leadoff today, which is probably how Hairston would fit into a regular-season lineup. If Hairston starts in center, Hairston and shortstop Ian Desmond would likely hit first and second in some order.
“You don’t have that prototypical leadoff bat unless it’s Nyjer,” Riggleman said. “That’s not to say guys can’t get comfortable there.”