On Tuesday afternoon, Nationals manager Matt Williams met with reporters at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista. Among the many subjects that Williams addressed were his thoughts on the Nationals lineup. Williams didn’t say anything groundbreaking, nor did he announce a set lineup, but his comments was interesting nonetheless because it was an early window into how he thinks and wants to use players.
The pitcher, Williams joked, will bat ninth in the lineup. “I know that much,” he said with a smile.
Who will hit first? “Certainly you don’t argue with Denard [Span] leading off,” Williams said. “We think of him in that role.” And with the way Span finished last season — a .335 on-base percentage and a 29-game hitting streak over the last two months — that makes sense.
“We have multiple options in the two hole, with the guys, with the middle of the infield guys, certainly, either one of them,” Williams said.
He was clearly referring to Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon. Desmond set a career-high with 145 strikeouts last season and posted a .333 on-base percentage over the past two seasons. Desmond’s best skills are his ability to hit for power, extra bases and run well on the bases, a point Williams wants to emphasis as a team. And although Rendon, posted a .329 on-base percentage and slumped some in the second half, he showed a good strike zone discipline for a rookie.
Williams didn’t necessarily specify where he wanted Bryce Harper to hit. Having Harper hit second in the lineup would get him more at-bats but it would also pair two left-handed hitters atop the lineup so it may not be ideal. Williams did want to allow Harper’s aggressiveness on the basepaths to shine.
“I want to put Bryce in a position that he can steal a base if he wants to,” Williams said. “Where is that? It could be a number of places.”
The middle of Williams’ lineup is clear on makeup but murky on exact order. Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche are all possibilities. Williams spent an hour at Werth’s house after he was hired and reported that the outfielder was “shaggy right now.”
“We’ve got the ability to have a couple of big, hairy guys, no pun intended, in the middle of the lineup, without naming names,” Williams said. “We can stack lefty, righty, if that gives you any indication how something like that may work. So there’s lots of options. The good thing about it is we have those options.”
Alternating left-handers and right-handers was a tactic former manager Davey Johnson also employed and later in the season he often put more space in the lineup between the left-handers to create more matchup problems for opponents. Johnson tinkered with the lineup often last season because he wanted to spark a sleepy offense that underachieved for the first four months of the season. Ideally, Williams wants a set lineup.
“I want to make sure that my guys that are in the middle of the lineup are comfortable in the middle of the lineup and they stay there for the majority of the time,” he said. “But you have things that you can do to stack against a certain pitcher or what have you. But for the most part I want my guys to be in the position where they’re comfortable, one, it’s stable to them and they can play the game.”