A closer look at the Nationals lineup

Following the eighth loss in 11 games on Tuesday night, another night of sleepy bats in a lineup full of talent, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson’s frustration and mandate were clear: “It’s time to get a little mad.” And in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals, Johnson has a way to attack it: With changes to the lineup which has scored two runs over the past 28 innings.

While Johnson didn’t forecast his lineup tweaks, he suggested he would give a day off to players who were struggling. Johnson is patient and consistent with capable players in a funk, writing their names in the lineup everyday as both a show on confidence and an opportunity to pull out of the slump. “But I’m getting to my rope’s end,” he said.

Here’s a brief look at each player in the recent, everyday lineup, excluding Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, who are both on the disabled list but played consistently until sidelined by hamstring injuries, and Anthony Rendon, who has played in only three games since being called up. The following is a momentary snapshot of the following players’ performances.

Denard Span: The leadoff hitter has done exactly what he has needed to be in the lineup: reach base. His .372 on-base percentage is third-best among the regulars and boasts a team-high 11 walks. He has reached base only five times in his last 21 plate appearances and hasn’t scored any of those times, but that isn’t his fault.

Jayson Werth: He excelled as a leadoff hitter last season and, with the acquisition of Span, moved down to the No. 2 hole. He has been more aggressive and it has succeeded at times. He has a .708 OPS through 20 games with three home runs but also has struck out 18 times (tied for second most on the team). He has scored a team-high 14 runs and driven in eight runs.

Bryce Harper: The 20-year-old has carried the Nationals offense nearly alone at times so far this season. He is hitting .366/.438/.718 with seven home runs, 14 RBI and 13 runs scored. On Tuesday, Adam Wainwright even blatantly pitched around Harper with two men on in the sixth inning and two out to get to LaRoche. He threw Harper a first-pitch curveball for a swinging strike and then four balls.

Adam LaRoche: The first baseman’s struggles have been readily apparent over recent games (0 for 10 with seven strikeouts). Even though his batting average doesn’t reflect it, LaRoche’s swings and approach the opening few games of the season were sound. Then, he feels, he lost his timing. LaRoche is historically a slow starter. His career OPS in April is .716 and gradually increasing every month until a career .864 OPS and .911 OPS in July and August respectively. Asked how he could improved, he deadpanned: “Making contact would be a good start. I’ll try to start there.”

Ian Desmond: Despite his 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday and defensive lapses in previous games, the shortstop has done fine at the plate. He has an .807 OPS. He is enjoying a career-high extra-base hit per plate appearance rate (15 percent) compared to last season (11 percent). His strikeout rate so far (22.5 percent) is higher than last season (20.7) but not alarmingly out of whack.

Danny Espinosa: Believe it or not, the second baseman’s strikeout rate is lower this season already (15.8 percent) compared to last season (28.7 percent), when he led the NL in strikeouts. His average sits at .167 with a .315 slugging percentage and .211 on-base percentage. On Tuesday, he went 0 for 3 and saw only six pitches in three at-bats. He may also may be trying to do too much: he is averaging nearly three pitches per plate appearance — last season it was 3.82 pitches per plate appearance.

Kurt Suzuki: The catcher, along with Ramos, has been productive batting in the tough No. 8 spot. He is hitting .250 but boasts a .525 slugging percentage and .380 on-base percentage. Despite playing fewer games less than most regulars, he has eight walks and six extra-base hits. Nationals catchers have a combined .934 OPS, fourth-best in the majors.

Given Johnson’s call for some new wrinkles to the lineup no Wednesday, here’s one guess at what the lineup could look like. Because it’s a 1 p.m. start following a night game, Johnson may choose to sit Suzuki and start catcher Jhonatan Solano, who has one at-bat since being recalled over a week ago.

Because the Nationals are facing a left-handed starter, Jaime Garcia, on Wednesday, it would appear that resting LaRoche and playing Tyler Moore at first base is a likely switch. Switch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi, who is hitting .357 (10 for 28), does well atop the lineup with a .379 on-base percentage. Werth could be placed in an more run-producing spot at No. 5 — but could also easily be kept at his usual No. 2 spot in the lineup and Lombardozzi could hit seventh. Again, this lineup is an educated guess and Johnson obviously has own ideas.

Lineup possibility

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

3. Bryce Harper, LF

4. Tyler Moore, 1B

5. Jayson Werth, RF

6. Ian Desmond, SS

7. Anthony Rendon, 3B

8. Jhonatan Solano, C

9. Stephen Strasburg, SP

FROM THE POST

The Nationals fall to the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-0, and the level of frustration over sleepy bats reaches a head, writes Adam Kilgore.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Gio Gonzalez on his early command issues, trying to slow down

Craig Stammen, the Nationals’ high-leverage long reliever

Xavier Cedeno claimed off waivers

Chris Young makes his first start, other minor league updates

Dan Haren improved, but not enough: ‘I’m going to be better’

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 8, Rochester 7 (13): Chris Young made his first minor league start and coughed up six runs on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out two. Lefties Fernando Abad and J.C. Romero pitched yet another scoreless inning each. Eury Perez returned from the DL for a wrist injury and went 4 for 7. Jimmy Van Ostrand had the walkoff single. (Micah Owings was intentionally walked ahead of Ostrand.)

Reading 7, Harrisburg 5:: Caleb Clay allowed three runs, two earned, over 6 1/3 innings. Brian Goodwin went 3 for 5 and launched his second home run of the season. He is now hitting .276 on the season. Josh Johnson collected three hits, and Erik Komatsu and Jerad Head

Carolina 7, Potomac 1: A.J. Cole started and allowed three runs, two unearned, on seven hits over three innings. He struck out four and walked none. Adrian knocked in the sole run with a double.

Augusta 3, Hagerstown 1: Starter Ivan Pineyro allowed two runs on six hits over five innings. David Fischer, in relief, allowed one run of four innings without giving up a hit. That’s because two walks and hit two batters in the seventh inning. Shawn Pleffner and Brandon Miller each added two hits. Wander Ramos hit a solo home run for the only Hagerstown run.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · April 23, 2013

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