One thing was unanimous Friday night in the Nationals’ clubhouse: No one could remember a ball they’ve seen hit harder than the bomb Laynce Nix hit off the third deck in right field, just a few feet foul and maybe 450 feet from home plate. When Nix unleashed a comically violent swing and sent the ball to a spot only Adam Dunn and Bryce Harper have ventured, the 21,399 in attendance gasped, like they could not believe what they’d seen. “Amazing,” Ian Desmond said.
Nix would strike out later in the at-bat, but that did not change his status as one of the more pleasant surprises of this young Nationals season. Nix has received few opportunities, but he’s taken advantage of most every one. Friday night, Manager Jim Riggleman penciled him into the lineup in left field so he could have one more left-handed bat against Tim Lincecum.
Nix had never faced Lincecum, but he went 2 for 3 with a two-run homer that gave the Nationals control in the second inning of a 3-0 victory. Nix is now 11 for 35 with three homers, five walks and a .600 slugging percentage. Last year with the Reds, Nix had four home runs in 165 at-bats.
“It’s a good sign,” Nix said. “My swing feels good and loose for this early in the year. To be able to square up a few balls, it’s not a bad thing.”
Nix has probably forced Riggleman to consider getting him some more at-bat. Left fielder Michael Morse is hitting .221/.263/.279 in 68 at-bats, but it would be a bit rash to change course one month into the season with Morse.
Then again, it would also be a bit foolish to waste perhaps your hottest hitter while trying to ditch a team-wide slump. The Nationals believe Nix can play center field. Rick Ankiel is hitting .215/.291/.280 – him batting second is getting to be untenable. So there’s way Nix could squeeze into the lineup every now and then.
For now, it seems, Nix will continue contributing as a reserve. Nix came off the bench for the Reds last year, and he knows how to prepare for that role. “Lot of extra work in the cage,” Nix said. “Staying at game speed even if I’m not in there. I know how to stay and give myself a chance to when I play. You never get used to it. I just try to stay fresh and ready to go.”