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Posted at 06:50 AM ET, 03/29/2011

The Nationals unique, experienced, left-handed bench


With their avalanche of roster moves yesterday, the Nationals crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s for opening day and, basically, fully shaped the complexion and a unique bench.

The youngest reserve will be backup catcher Wilson Ramos, 23. On days Ramos starts and Ivan Rodriguez sits, so long as the rest of the Nationals’ typical lineup starts, the Nationals’ bench will be comprised of Rodriguez, Alex Cora, Matt Stairs, Laynce Nix and Jerry Hairston.

Average age of that quintet: 36

Average major league service time: 11.2 years

Surely, that is not a mistake. This is mainly speculating, but it’s a pretty short leap. With Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and another big-ticket free agent or two on the way, the Nationals are not expected to contend this season. One of the main missions, then, is for the Nationals’ more inexperienced pieces of future – Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Jordan Zimmermann, etc. – to come of age with strong influences in a clubhouse run in a professional way. The veteran bench players, it seems, will have roles beyond their playing duties.

When it comes to playing, it is something of an unusual, left-handed heavy mix. Cora is a switch-hitter, but he’s on the team for his defense. Given his eight homers in his last 1,291 at-bats, he’s not the hitter you want to send to the plate down a run in the ninth. Jerry Hairston is right-handed. The reserve catcher will be right-handed. Nix and Stairs, the two main pinch-hitting options, are both left-handed. And against left-handed starting pitchers, Rick Ankiel figures to make three lefties on the bench.

“We may be in some situations where we just have to have some left-on-left hitting a little more than we have in the past,” Manager Jim Riggleman said.

Riggleman said he will use Stairs in two circumstances. He will usually save him for the ninth, to hit against opposing closers, who tend to be right-handed. Or, he will send Stairs to the plate for the Nationals’ pitcher early in a game against a right-handed starter, maybe during a rally in the fifth or sixth inning, when it is unlikely the opposing manager will take out his starter.

The dearth of a powerful right-handed may make for a unique mix-and-match. Ramos provides a home run threat off the bench, but using a catcher as a pinch-hitter is typically considered too risky. If he is injured or ejected, then the Nationals would be down to their emergency catcher (which, most likely, would be Cora).

Riggleman, though, outlined a scenario in which he could bat Ramos. He could send Ramos to the plate to hit in the pitcher’s spot and then double-switch first baseman Adam LaRoche out of the game. That would allow Ivan Rodriguez to play first – he’s been taking grounders there this spring just in case – while Ramos stayed in the game and caught. That would keep a second catcher available. But, it would also remove the Nationals’ cleanup hitter and an excellent defensive first baseman. For Ramos to be used in that manner, it would have to be a crucial moment.

FROM THE POST

Over at Baseball Insider, you can laugh at my season predictions and join Dave Sheinin’s third annual picks contest.

John Lannan emerged from last year’s trip to the minor leagues not only repaired, but maybe better than ever.

By  |  06:50 AM ET, 03/29/2011

 
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