The Washington Post

Why Ian Desmond is leading off tonight

Manager Jim Riggleman’s explanation for why he chose to bat Ian Desmond and not Danny Espinosa leadoff tonight was simple. He thought more about the decision, talked to coaches about it and decided he had a change of heart. There really wasn’t much of an explanation, really.

“I just changed my mind, basically is what it comes down to,” Riggleman said. “We come in a little bit interchangeable [at] one and seven [in the batting order]. It’s something we may tinker with as we go along. I’m sure we will. For now, I’m just going to leave Desi where he is.

“The reason to not hit Ian first would just be to get a little attention off him, so he’s not the first guy walking up there and hasn’t got a hit yet. But he’s such a mentally tough kid that he’s fine with it. And we feel like this is where he can help us the most right now. As long as he can handle it, that’s where we’ll leave it.”

(John McDonnell)

“It doesn’t matter,” Espinosa said. “No one told me I was leading off.”

For now, the Nationals still think Desmond can adequately hold down the leadoff spot and that Espinosa, with his powerful bat, is better suited to hit seventh. The issue underscores the fact that the Nationals entered the season without a true, typical leadoff hitter on their roster.

“It’s not jumping out to us that [Espinosa is] a leadoff hitter,” Riggleman said. “If somebody jumped out at us a leadoff hitter, we would move toward that. … A lot of our guys fit real well in the two spot. We don’t really have a prototypical leadoff hitter.”

Espinosa feels like he could hit first if he asked. He batted leadoff for more than a month last year at Class AA Harrisburg. During his call-up last fall, Espinosa went 11 for 73 with 25 strikeouts, 8 walks and 3 homers hitting first, but he realizes he let the newness of his situation affect him.

“I’m fine with it,” Espinosa said. “The only reason I struggled last year was because everything was new and I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

Espinosa has started this year 4 for 11 with two doubles. He credited a more comfortable feeling now than during his call-up.

“I feel confident,” Espinosa said. “I feel part of the team more so. I feel better being around and more confident when I’m playing. When you come up and you’re young, it’s tough. You have been with the team through the struggles throughout the year, the ups and downs. But when you come for spring training, your teammates make you feel like you’re apart of the team. You have the confidence to go out and play.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.


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