NEW YORK — For these Nationals, Adam Lind is the guy who plays when Ryan Zimmerman needs a rest, the big left-handed bat off the bench. Lind demonstrated this Saturday night, when he homered for the second time in two games, accumulating the 200th home run of his career.
“I don’t know [what it means] yet. I know it was a goal I had at the beginning of the year that I would like to try to accomplish,” Lind said. “A lot of people have a hand in that, from when I’m a kid to this point in my life.”
Lind is not in the lineup Sunday afternoon. Howie Kendrick will play in his place. Lind started two straight games and three of the last four. His workload with the Nationals has rarely been so heavy.
But that home run he hit last night — which tied him for 39th in career homers among active players — should serve as a reminder of what the Nationals got in Lind this season. He was a power hitter they found on sale, but has hit 14 home runs and contributed disproportionately to his $1 million salary. His .917 on-base-plus-slugging against right-handed pitching is 26th best in the big leagues for players with at least 200 at-bats.
If that sounds like a stat crafted to the point, consider the names around him on that list for more context. Anthony Rizzo’s OPS is a few points higher. Josh Donaldson is hitting a few points lower. As loaded as this Nationals offense is when healthy, only two players have fared better against right-handed pitching this season — Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.
“He’s come up big so many times this year, whether its pinch-hit or filling in for Zim,” Stephen Strasburg said Saturday. “I think it’s allowed for a lot of flexibility or allowed Zim when he needs a day to have a day because he comes right in there and he doesn’t miss a beat. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him this year because he’s a great guy in the clubhouse and keeps it loose, but he goes out there and does his job.”
When he arrived in spring training, signed a few days after Nationals players reported, Lind said he was just grateful to have a job. The market on big-bodied power hitters like him collapsed last winter, and given the rise in home run totals this season, does not seem likely to rebound. But after a down year in 2016 in which he cemented his status as a versus-righties-only platoon player, Lind has taken advantage of opportunities filling in for Zimmerman to show improved production against lefties, too. In one-tenth of the at-bats, so take from this what you will, Lind is hitting .321 against lefties with a .724 OPS — a better average than he has against right-handers, but with less power. His career average against left-handed pitching is .218.
“Adam Lind was unbelievable,” said amateur hitting coach Daniel Murphy after Lind’s 200th homer Saturday. “He’s just in control of every at-bat.”
Because he has controlled those at-bats against left-handers so well, Lind might still find an improved market this winter. He and the Nationals have a mutual option for 2018, one that would pay Lind $5 million — likely to fill a similar role to that which he held here. Perhaps his improved offensive balance will entice a team to give him everyday duties. Perhaps Lind and the Nationals will want to keep a good thing going. Regardless, the Nationals got a steal in the 34-year-old, who has also slid seamlessly into their veteran clubhouse with wry homer and laid-back demeanor.
With Ryan Zimmerman resting due to “general soreness” all weekend, and Lind out of the lineup against Jacob DeGrom Sunday, Kendrick will start at first base after playing his first innings there as a National late in Saturday’s win. Kendrick has played 91 career games and 648 1/3 innings at first base, so he will not feel out of place.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (93-61)
Trea Turner SS
Alejandro De Aza LF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Howie Kendrick 1B
Victor Robles RF
Michael A. Taylor CF
Jose Lobaton C
Max Scherzer P
NEW YORK METS (66-88)
Nori Aoki RF
Jose Reyes 2B
Brandon Nimmo LF
Travis d’Arnaud C
Dominic Smith 1B
Phil Evans 3B
Amed Rosario SS
Juan Lagares CF
Jacob DeGrom P