Nationals Manager Davey Johnson eyed his players as they arrived at spring training, sized up their bodies and health, all factors he takes into consideration as he formulates a lineup. The Nationals will have one of the best lineups in baseball this season, a combination of left- and right-handed hitters, both power hitters and for average. Johnson just isn’t sure yet what variation of it he wants to use.
It’s no secret that Denard Span will be the leadoff hitter, Adam LaRoche was re-signed to be a middle-of-the-order power bat and Ian Desmond thrived last season when dropped from the leadoff spot to the fifth and sixth spots. But the two players that Johnson still isn’t sure about are Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.
“Spring is going to kind of be a test where I think they fit the best,” Johnson said. “It’s all about making harder choices for the opposing manager on his matchups.”
Knowing Johnson and his preference to give the lineup balance by alternating lefties and righties in the lineup, the logical preferred lineup would look like this:
1. Denard Span, CF (L)
2. Jayson Werth, RF (R)
3. Bryce Harper, LF (L)
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B (R)
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B (L)
6. Ian Desmond, SS (R)
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B (S)
8. Kurt Suzuki, C/Wilson Ramos, C (R)
Johnson, however, isn’t yet ready to commit to batting Harper third. And, Werth could bat as high as second or as low as sixth in the batting order.
Ideally, Werth said earlier this winter, he would want to hit in the middle of the lineup. He, however, is still slowly nursing his broken wrist back to full health. A full recovery, doctors told him, would take 18 months and complete strength wouldn’t return until then. So even though it was broken in May and he returned to action within three months, the wrist was weaker.
If his wrist is still weak, Johnson could try batting him second behind Span, hoping the strength in the wrist returns and then move him lower into a more run-producing role. The power numbers, Werth suggested earlier this winter, would also return with a stronger wrist.
“I don’t know Span that well but I know he’s a little more aggressive than your typical leadoff hitter,” Johnson said. “But it really worked pretty well last year with Jayson and Harp because pitchers had to use everything they had and they threw a lot of pitches the first two guys. And I know Zim really liked that and the rest of the guys in the lineup because they’d see the whole repertoire. And it made it easier than I guess if I had Desmond up there, Desmond was hacking at anything he could reach. But I like Desi down the lineup at six. We’re just going to have to wait and see when Jayson gets here.”
Harper said he would hit wherever Johnson asked him to but his preference would be in the second spot of the order, where he spent most of last season. From the second spot, Harper could watch Werth take a lot of pitches, like he normally does, and worry about reaching base ahead of the normally consistent Ryan Zimmerman.
“I just like the 2-spot because I know somebody’s going to be in front of me all of the time,” Harper said. “I’m going to try to make things happen as best as I can. It doesn’t really matter where I hit. I think we had a great lineup last year, and we’ve got a great lineup coming into spring training this year. I don’t think you can go wrong with anything he puts together.”