The convergence of injuries left the Nationals with a unique lineup. Matt Stairs will start at first (something he did once last season and, before that, not since 2007) and bat cleanup (something he last in 2009, when he did it thrice). Laynce Nix will start in left and bat sixth. Jerry Hairston will start at third, something he did twice last season, and bat eighth.
By around 4 p.m., Manager Jim Riggleman had still decided on a lineup. He scrawled three, waiting to hear word on Morse (who has the flu) and LaRoche (who doctors ruled out despite his insistence he should play; more on that in a coming post). Once he heard he would be missing not one or two but three regulars, Riggleman posted his lineup.
And he still felt confident.
“I feel good about the lineup we’re going to put out there,” Riggleman said. “I feel like we’re not going to put guys out there who are either sick or hurt. I feel good about the potential of what Nix and Hairston and Stairs can give us tonight.”
The Nationals focused on adding experienced veterans to the bench, and now some of those veterans will be coming off the bench with greater frequency. Hairston will split time with Alex Cora and even Morse – who was drafted as a shortstop – at third base while Zimmerman sits out for three weeks or so. When Morse plays third, Nix will probably play left.
“I’m a little anxious to see Nix out there,” Riggleman said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Morse play some third base and keep the options open with Cora and Hairston any way I want to use them. I like to the opportunity to get Hairston some at-bats. Try to keep these guys busy.
“I think the guys we acquired this winter, this is the type of thing that will help you justify why you do it. You’re not going to replace a Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup totally. It does take a little of the sting out of it having a left-handed hitter like Nix who, when he’s going good, he can drive some balls in the gap himself.”
Since Hairston is a right-hander and Cora hits lefty, Hairston will probably play third on days the Nationals face left-handed starters. That removes the possibility of Rick Ankiel sitting and Hairston playing center, which Riggleman is fine with.
“I’m not locked in that Ankiel is not going to play against lefties, too,” Riggleman said. “I have no qualms about playing Ankiel against left-handers. The way players play will determine how much you can play them against lefties, or righties against righties. I’m certainly looking at it as he’s going to be fine. Throughout the spring, really, he’s had really good at-bats against left-handers. When relievers have come in, he’s hung in there very well. If he’s out there against Cliff Lee on Thursday, that allows us to put Hairston’s right-handed bat somewhere, and it could very well be third base.”
Tonight, LaRoche should be available to pinch-hit. Riggleman is also hoping Morse will feel well enough by the late inning to pinch-hit, too.