With Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond struggling to produce in the leadoff spot, manager Jim Riggleman shook up the lineup on Friday, moving second baseman Danny Espinosa into the top spot and shifting Desmond down to seventh.
Desmond was hitting just .180 going into the series against the Milwaukee Brewers and had failed to register a hit in his last 12 at-bats. He had reached base just once at Nationals Park, a walk on Wednesday against Philadelphia, and had a .212 OBP.
Riggleman played down the change, reiterating that he believed Desmond and Espinosa were “interchangeable,” and had told them so during spring training and once earlier this season.
“I just really want to let the attention get off [Desmond] in that spot, let him settle in a little bit deeper in the lineup, take some of that off of him,” Riggleman said. “We thought about doing it earlier and I didn’t, it was only three or four games into the season. Dezzy’s doing fine. He’s going to go through some times like this just like all of them are. Just trying to take a little attention off the leadoff spot for him. He’s a heck of a player and he’s doing some really good things for us out there that are kind of under the radar that people don’t see, but as far as swinging the bat maybe let him relax a little bit deeper in the lineup today.”
Riggleman said he considered hitting Desmond second in the lineup but opted instead to slide him further down in order to “let him relax.”
Desmond said that hitting leadoff wasn’t affecting him mentally as much that his swing “just hasn’t felt good.”
The change didn’t seem to impact him, either. Instead, Desmond echoed a point Riggleman made before the game: that he would solidify his place in the lineup with his defense more than what he does at the plate.
“Like I’ve said the whole time, I don’t care where I hit,” Desmond said. “I’m here to play defense, and that’s my main goal this year, to be the best defensive player I can be. Anything I can add offensively is a bonus. I’m still looking at it that way. Offense, this team has enough offense. We got to play defense behind our pitching staff.”
This season Espinosa, who is hitting .281, has seen 3.88 pitches per plate appearance while Desmond has seen just 3.51 — a significant difference.
Riggleman said he wasn’t worried about how Espinosa approached at-bats, however, rather that he wanted both of the young players to just “play and let their talents surface and hopefully help us win the ballgame.”