For the first time this season – and for just the eighth time in the eight-plus seasons of his big league career – Jayson Werth will bat in the cleanup spot for the Nationals. When Washington plays at New York in the second of a two-game series, Werth will split two left-handers (Laynce Nix and Adam LaRoche) in the batting order.
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said Thursday morning that the decision to bat Werth fourth was made in part as a reaction to the makeup of New York’s bullpen and in part in an attempt to spark Washington’s anemic offense.
“The Mets, like a couple other clubs, are carrying three left-handers in the bullpen now, so if you line your left-handers up together, it’s a little easier for the opposing team to stifle you as you get in the middle or late innings,” Riggleman said. “That’s the primary reason. Also we’re just trying to find some little combination there that will produce more runs.”
The three left-handed New York relievers to whom Riggleman was referring are Tim Byrdak, Pat Misch and Mike O’Connor.
But perhaps more relevant to Nationals fans is the alarming state of their team’s offense. Washington owns the lowest batting average (.225) and the lowest on-base percentage (.298) in the National League. While the Nats have been shut out in three of their past nine games, they also have tallied at least four runs in seven of their past 10 games.
Riggleman said he does not believe the team has any offensive minor league prospects ready to be called up and contribute right now, which means Washington will continue to navigate through this rut with its current compilation of hitters. And that means conducting experiments such as batting Werth in the cleanup spot.
Werth has hit fourth in a batting order fewer times than he has hit at any other spot – including ninth – in a lineup in his professional career. In the seven games he has started as the cleanup hitter, Werth batted 7 for 29 (.241) with two doubles, two home runs, three walks and 13 strikeouts.
This season, Werth is batting .238 with nine doubles, six home runs, 21 walks and 41 strikeouts. He has driven in 14 runs.
Riggleman insisted that the changes he has made to the batting order this season have been minor, moving a player up or down just a few spots in the lineup. The plan for now, Riggleman said, is to bat left-hander Roger Bernadina in the leadoff spot and build from there.
“Our second hitter is pretty much there’s a lot of second hitters there, so (Ian) Desmond, we’re trying to get him going in that spot and see if that takes off for us the way it did last year for him,” Riggleman said. “We’re trying to leave them relatively close to where they’ve been on a daily basis.”