Why Matt Williams batted Bryce Harper sixth

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Manager Matt Williams #9 of the Washington Nationals looks on during player introductions before Opening Day against the New York Mets on March 31, 2014 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Matt Williams provided a major surprise with the second lineup of his managerial career. Bryce Harper batted seventh for the first four games of his major league career, and he has not batted lower than fifth since. Until tonight, when Williams penciled him into the sixth spot, two places lower than cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche.

Williams reiterated what he said opening day when asked about Harper hitting fifth: “We want to continue to open Bryce’s game up,” he said. When asked about what that meant, and why Harper needs to hit lower in the lineup in order open up his game, Williams expanded on his reasoning.

“One, I think it takes a little bit of pressure off of Bryce,” Williams said. “It allows him to use his legs, and I think that’s important, when he wants to use his legs. Now, we look at tonight as an example. [Mets starter Bartolo Colon] is really quick to the plate, so will there be opportunities to do that? You never know. But we want to give him the option to do. He’s a five-tool guy so he can beat that other team in many, many ways. We want to give him the opportunity to do that.

“Now, from a managers’ perspective you say ‘If I hit him second or third in front of Jayson [Werth] and [Ryan Zimmerman], do I really want him trying to steal second when we’re one swing away from a two-run homer or a three-run homer?’ That’s the logic. Most of all, I want him to be free and play and not have those boundaries on him. And I think, for me, over the long run he will drive in big runs for us.

“Tonight’s lineup is a little different than opening day, where he hit fifth behind those two guys. But we’ll probably see that one a lot, because he’s going to have the opportunity to drive in big runs for us. And hopefully we look at the end of the year and he’s got a whole bunch of RBI because he’s hitting in that spot. Doesn’t mean he’s going be there every day. What it does mean is that we are allowing him to be free and play and relying on him as a big part of our offense to play and produce for us and drive runs in.”

One could counter that Harper would have more opportunity to drives in if he batted higher and, therefore, came to the plate more often. You could also say that since Harper is one of the Nationals’ best hitters, batting in front of Werth and Zimmerman would likely provide more chances for them to hit two-run homers than an alternative. And that, come to think of it, more two-run homers is a better outcome than more stolen bases. But anyway, there you have it.

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