With the season opener less than three weeks away, Nationals Manager Matt Williams has a good idea what lineup he wants to use. He just isn’t quite ready to share it. He has tried out several spring training lineups already, but is balancing different player’s playing time needs. Williams is open to altering the lineup often during the season for a number of factors — recent performance, pitching matchups and how tired players are — but he generally wants to keep the eight regular position players in their given roles.
“I think our starting eight we wanna get in there as much as we can,” he said. “But there are going to be times when we have to give guys days off which is important to do. During those times we’ll mix and match as much as we can. I believe in consistency if we can stay there but it’s not absolute. It’s never absolute. There are days where it’ll be shifted around a little bit.”
So aside from the caveats, here are some clues into Williams’s thinking:
>>> He likes Denard Span as the team’s everyday leadoff hitter. But Span will have regular rest during the season to keep him fresh and, traditionally, that would coincide with a tough left-hander pitcher starting for the opposing team. When Span rests, Williams mentioned Nate McLouth (career .334 on-base percentage), Ian Desmond (career .318 on-base percentage, but improved over the past two seasons) and Anthony Rendon (.329 on-base percentage as a rookie) as possibilities as leadoff hitter.
Williams said he likes on-base percentage and speed atop the lineup. So when asked if Bryce Harper could also leadoff for those very reasons, Williams didn’t dismiss the possibility. “Why not?” he said. So far this spring, Span has led off five times, McLouth three times and Rendon three times (including in a split squad game).
Based on Williams’s criteria, Jayson Werth could also be a leadoff hitter, where he thrive in late 2012. Werth has a career .367 on-base percentage and has the fourth-best stolen base percentage in baseball history (87 percent). “But he’s not the guy because he’s our three guy or our four guy; it depends on the day and who we’re facing,” Williams said. Under Williams, Werth is a run-producer, which the right fielder likes and showed he was still capable of doing well last season.
>>> Williams said he likes what Desmond can do for the lineup as a No. 2 hitter. Desmond has hit second in the lineup six times through 10 spring games and that’s partially because Williams wants the shortstop to get as many at-bats as possible before he is pulled for backups. But Williams still believes that spot suits Desmond well, but wouldn’t commit to it for the regular season just yet.
“One, I like his leadership,” Williams said. “I like with the ability to steal bases. He’s a smart baserunner. He’s let it go here as far as stealing, attempted steals. He can hit the ball to all fields and he’s got thunder. In the middle of your lineup, you certainly want that. That’s what he brings as a No. 2 hitter goes. But he can also hit five and be down in the order too if the situation presents itself.”
>>> If Desmond moves down in the lineup for whatever reason, Williams think Rendon could fill the second spot in the lineup for the same reasons that Desmond could: a blend of some power and speed.
“Anthony is that guy that brings the same type of tools to the table,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of ways you can think about it but right now it’s about getting them at-bats and getting them enough.”
>>> Williams has talked often this spring about how much he is impressed with Wilson Ramos and his ability to drive in runs by hitting the ball the other way. Ramos hit anywhere from fourth to eighth last season, but mostly towards the bottom of the lineup. Don’t be surprised, however, if Ramos hits on the higher end of that range under Williams.
>>> Williams said earlier this spring that he wants to stack right-handers, such as Ryan Zimmerman, Desmond and Werth, in between left-handers Span and Harper so that opponents are forced to use multiple left-handed relievers. Opponents could stick with one left-hander to face Span and Harper, but he would have to get through several good right-handed hitters in a row, too.
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY