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Dusty Baker isn’t convinced that Trea Turner and Adam Eaton must bat 1-2

Adam Eaton has been a leadoff hitter his entire career, but that could change this season. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

JUPITER, Fla. – When the Nationals acquired Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox in December, the assumption was either he or Trea Turner would bat leadoff and the other would bat second. Manager Dusty Baker, however, is not married to the notion. He’s using his club’s time in Florida to experiment.

In Washington’s Grapefruit League opener on Saturday, Baker’s lineup had Turner leading off with Eaton behind him. On Monday against the Cardinals, the Nationals’ second game with several regulars, Turner, who hit his first home run of the spring, was back in the leadoff spot. Eaton batted sixth. Eaton has been a leadoff hitter basically his entire major league career, but Baker has indicated that having him lower in the order is an option he is considering.

“You don’t want to be just good at the top of the lineup,” Baker said. “You want balance throughout the lineup, so that’s what I’m trying to achieve … Down here in spring training, I’ll be experimenting with different lineups and different versus left, different versus right. So let’s not write my lineup out yet because it’s not set. ”

Baker’s decision-making goes beyond whether he believes Turner and Eaton are suitable for the top of the order. They unquestionably are. The problem is that Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper follow, and both are left-handed hitters. If the Nationals are intent on Turner leading off, which is what Baker has indicated, having Eaton bat second would mean three straight left-handed hitters.

“Do I bat two or three left-handers in a row and let the manager wipe out my whole lineup with a couple lefties during the course of a game?” Baker asked. “Or do I try to achieve balance?”

All three, as expected, were better against right-handed pitching last season. But the dropoff for Murphy and Eaton wasn’t drastic. Murphy thrashed all pitching in 2016, and batted .329 with a .924 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. That batting average versus lefties ranked 16th in all of baseball, righty or lefty, and the OPS was 23rd. Meanwhile, Eaton batted .285 against righties and .284 against lefties, and his on-base percentage was higher opposite left-handers (.369 to .360). His power, however, was diminished – he slugged .451 against right-handers as opposed to .361 against lefties.

Harper’s splits were starker: a .226 batting average and .764 OPS against lefties vs. a .250 batting average and .833 OPS opposite righties. But Harper blasted left-handers in his MVP 2015 season, posting a .318 batting average and .986 OPS. So the potential to flip the lefty-lefty logic is there for him, too.

There’s no rush to figure it out. Three Grapefruit League games are in the books. Jayson Werth, who Baker said could return to the two hole, and Ryan Zimmerman haven’t even played in a game yet. The Nationals have another five weeks to experiment and weigh the possibilities.

“A lot of people have tried to tell me during my managerial career what the lineups should be but nobody has really hit in all places in the lineup but me,” Baker said. “And also, my teams have always hit. I’ll let everybody know what my lineup’s going to be when the time comes.”

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