Davey Johnson upends lineup: Bryce Harper leading off, Denard Span to seventh

Patrick Semansky/AP

Denard Span (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson told himself he wouldn’t make any drastic changes to the lineup until after the all-star break. But after the Nationals bipolar offense produced 12 base runners yet scored only one run on Saturday against the Miami Marlins, he flipped it all around — one day before the four-day break. The Nationals have won only once during this seven-game road trip and been outscored 21-14.

Bryce Harper will lead off for the first time in his career. Anthony Rendon, back in the lineup after a day off, will hit second. Denard Span, hitting .217 over the past 29 games, was moved out of the top spot of the lineup for the first time this season. Johnson dropped Span, the team’s leadoff hitter until now but with a .313 on-base percentage, to the seventh spot of the batting order.

The moves, in essence, make sense. Johnson wanted to stack two of the highest on-base percentage hitters atop the lineup. Harper leads the team with a .372 on-base percentage and Rendon is third with a .351 clip. Behind both of them, Johnson stacked four run-producers: Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond. And in flipping the lineup, Johnson still managed to maintain the left-right balance throughout.

Span will hit seventh, sandwiched in between Desmond and Wilson Ramos. The last time Span didn’t start atop a batting order was June 6, 2011 when he hit third — and only once that season — for the Minnesota Twins. Since he joined the Nationals, Span has been battling his own timing and swing. He understood why he was dropped in the lineup. He is 25 for his last 115 (.217) with 11 walks.

“I’ve walked a little bit more lately but I haven’t felt too comfortable at the plate,” Span said. “Whenever you don’t feel comfortable at the plate, you’re going to swing at pitching you wouldn’t normally swing at. I’ve been more aggressive that I normally would because I’m trying to make something happen. So just all in all, I haven’t felt the way I need to feel pretty much all season.”

Every game, Span said he tweaks the placement of his hands, adjusts his batting stance or swing, still searching for the comfort level that has eluded him all season. He entered the season with a career .357 on-base percentage but has a .313 through 88 games. Traditionally, he hits left-handers well for a left-handed hitter (.276 average), but this season he has struggled against them (.144). Even in the fourth month of the season, Span admits his swing is still a work in progress. “I just haven’t felt comfortable,” he said.

“For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to get settled in,” he added. “Even early on when I was doing better I still wasn’t feeling that great. It’s no excuse. Just gotta get some confidence going. It’ll be fine. The way I look at it, I can’t play any worse than I’ve played. This is the worst I’ve played and I’m hitting .255.”

One game early, Johnson debuted the overhauled lineup that he had been toying with. And there may be no better time than Sunday, after a poor stretch of baseball.

Nationals

1. Bryce Harper, LF

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B

3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

4. Adam LaRoche, 1B

5. Jayson Werth, RF

6. Ian Desmond, SS

7. Denard Span, CF

8. Wilson Ramos, C

9. Taylor Jordan, SP

 

Marlins

1. Juan Pierre, LF

2. Placido Polanco, 3B

3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF

4. Marcell Ozuna, CF

5. Derek Dietrich, 2B

6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

7. Greg Dobbs, 1B

8. Jeff Mathis, C

9. Henderson Alvarez, SP

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