Scott Hairston starts in place of Bryce Harper against Cole Hamels

(Alex Brandon /AP)

(Alex Brandon /AP)

For the third time in 18 games, Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals’ lineup. Matt Williams has said he wants to give Harper semi-frequent days off as he comes back from surgery to repair a ligament in his thumb, but today it’s also about the matchup. Scott Hairston will play left, just like the last time the Nationals faced Cole Hamels.

In his career against Hamels, the pitcher he’s faced more than any other, Hairston is hitting .390/.432/.878 with five home runs in 44 plate appearances. But if not for the numbers, Hairston said, he wouldn’t even realize the success he’s had. Hamels is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, and Hairston understands why.

“It’s always a tough at-bat,” Hairston said. “It’s not by any means easy. He’s always on. There’s not too many times when he doesn’t have his stuff. That’s what makes him a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. He has three or four plus pitches. He has a good fastball. A good cut fastball. Good curveball. Good change-up. And usually he can get those over for strikes when he wants to. It’s hard-days work.”

“People ask me what it is. I don’t know what it is. He’s still a great pitcher. He has great stuff. He’s tough. You really have to battle him and work the count. He’s going to make his pitches.”

But because is aware of his past history, Hairston carries a difference attitude to the plate. He knows Hamels will be a challenge. But he also knows he’s met it before.

“There’s a certain confidence that comes with that,” Hairston said. “It’s not a comfortable confidence. It’s a confidence, you walk up there, you’ve done it before against that pitcher. At the same time, you want to make sure you’re on your game. The focus has to be there. I think for the most part, you have to see what is working for him that day. My experience with Cole is, one day he’ll pitch mainly with his cut fastball and change. The next day, he’ll have his two-seamer and curveball, and he’d pitch you totally different. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. You have to be ready for anything.”

Harper will be available to pinch hit. While he’s sat three times recently, it made sense for him to be out if Williams wanted Hairston in. Denard Span is the Nationals’ hottest hitter, and both Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche have had more recent days off than Harper. Werth also sat the final four innings Friday night.

Here are the full lineups for this afternoon.

Nationals

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B

3. Jayson Werth, RF

4. Adam LaRoche, 1B

5. Ian Desmond, SS

6. Scott Hairston, LF

7. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B

8. Jose Lobaton, C

9. Stephen Strasburg, SP

Phillies

1. Ben Revere, CF

2. Jimmy Rollins, SS

3. Chase Utley, 2B

4. Ryan Howard, 1B

5. Marlon Byrd, RF

6. Grady Sizemore, LF

7. Wil Nieves, C

8. Cody Ashce, 3B

9. Cole Hamels, SP

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