The state of the Nationals offense necessitated some kind of change. Their leadoff batters to this point in the season have a collective .267 on-base percentage, worst in the majors by 12 points. In their past nine games, they have scored three or fewer runs seven times. They are scoring 3.77 runs per game, 23rd in the majors.
“The bottom line is,” Jayson Werth said, “we need to start scoring some runs.”
Manager Jim Riggleman decided the time for change had come today. Werth will bat leadoff for the first time this season and, more striking, Roger Bernadina will hit ninth, with starting pitcher John Lannan hitting eighth. The moves will give Werth, whose .345 on-base percentage leads the Nationals, more chances to hit while not robbing him the chance to drive in runs. They also provide a needed change.
“We’ve been thinking for a while about maybe having Jayson lead off,” Riggleman said. “Really, the only guy who’s got a good on-base percentage is Jayson. Somebody in the one or two spot has got to get on-base for us. Jayson has talked about it in recent days. We’ve tossed it around in the coaches room. It’s just kind of been hanging there. We just have not been a successful offense to this point. So we’ve got to try something.”
Werth did not know he would bat leadoff tonight, but he was not surprised either. Werth has batted leadoff 22 times in his career, the last time on July 6, 2008. His best offensive skill is not making outs – he preferred batting second before Ryan Zimmerman’s injury moved him to third in the lineup.
“Nothing really changes, expect I’m leading off the game,” Werth said with a shrug. “Whatever.”
Two factors helped Riggleman pull the trigger on the lineup change today. One was left-handed starter Clayton Richard. Riggleman believes the lineup sets up best against a lefty, because switch-hitting Danny Espinosa has been more successful as a right-handed batter and Riggleman feels comfortable hitting him third.
The third was somewhat ironic. He wanted to bat a position player ninth when Lannan pitched because Lannan – who has 16 hits in 183 career at-bats – is probably the Nationals worst hitter. The implication would be obvious: the move had nothing to do with who was pitching, but rather who was leading off.
“It’s probably better that it’s this way,” Riggleman said. “Our best hitting pitcher is Marquis. Then it could be perceived as, ‘Oh, you think this guy is a better hitter than me.’ So it has nothing to do with it. The quality of the pitcher, the way he swings the bat, is not really in the equation at all.”
Bernadina’s go-with-flow attitude makes him an ideal candidate to start at ninth. In the Nationals’ clubhouse, he is probably the position player least likely to be rankled by hitting behind the pitcher. (And he also has a .194 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers.)
Bernadina did not know he was hitting ninth until informed by a reporter. But he did not seem to mind at all.
“I’m hitting ninth?” Bernadina said, smiling. “It’s good. It’s something that can win the ballgame. Whenever I’m in the lineup, it’s good to me. If they have me hitting ninth, then that’s what it is. The manager makes decisions. But, yeah, it’s something different. Why not? It’s cool.”
Riggleman said he will continue to bat the pitcher eighth at least tomorrow, against right-hander Tim Stauffer, to see how the lineup functions against a right-hander. With Ryan Zimmerman’s return likely to come Tuesday, Riggleman will have to decide how Zimmerman would fit into the lineup.
There are many factors that guided Riggleman’s thinking. The most important, though, was the most obvious.
“All these things are a product of, we just haven’t got it done offensively yet,” Riggleman said. “And we’re scrambling around trying to find something that’ll work.”