Washington Nationals: Ian Desmond And Danny Espinosa, One-Two?

"As I toyed around with the lineup when we signed Jayson [Werth], you know, you're scratching it out on napkins when you're eating at a restaurant and stuff and you're at home scratching it out," Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman explained in a recent Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio interview, he came to the conclusion that the 31-year-old outfielder, "would really fit in nicely for us as hitting second because we don't really have high on base percentage guys first or second. He is a high on-base guy, so to get some people on base in front of [Ryan] Zimmerman we felt like Werth would be a guy who could do that. It just so happens [that] one of my first conversations with Werth that's what came out of his mouth, 'I'd like to hit second.'"

"I said, 'Well, I'm not going to go into the Spring thinking that way, let's see who's hitting first and second, see if they're getting on base and see if we can keep you down in the three-slot,'" Riggleman continued, "But as we'd gone through the Spring, it's become apparent that we probably need some on base in front of Zim that maybe we're not going to get so let's make it Jayson, let's move him up, and Werth and Zim both coming up in the first inning, we feel like has got a chance to put some pressure on the other ballclub and we feel like our fourth hitter should hit in the first inning every night with one of those two guys on base and maybe both of those guys on base." 

Werth too was interview by MLB Network Radio last weekend, and he explained why with just 381 of his 2,519 career AB's in the two-hole, and a .252/.340/.475 slash line batting second, he felt it was the best place for him to hit in the Nats' order: 

"I think it just plays into my game a little bit up towards the front of the order more. My strengths are seeing pitches and working pitchers, and I think that I'll be able to do that up there in the two-spot, but most importantly I think hitting in front of [Ryan] Zimmerman and with my on base percentage, I'm on base a lot, so it will give him a chance to drive in some runs, and I look forward to scoring from first on doubles and scoring from second on singles and things like that."

SI.com's Tom Verducci praised Riggleman's (and Werth's) decision this morning in an article entitled, "Opening Day impressions: Nats understand Werth's value", writing that, "Werth never has been the focal part of a lineup and doesn't have the personality for that kind of spotlight," and citing the fact that he hit .186 with RISP last season and has hit .260 on his career with runners in scoring position as evidence that though he's being paid like one he's not really a big middle-of-the-order bat. 

Werth spent the majority of the time in the last two seasons in Philadelphia batting fifth or sixth, though he did split time between second (.256/.336/.488 in 137 PA) and sixth (.298/.387/.550 in 150 PA's) for the Phillies in 2008, but on the Nats, as the right fielder explained to Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell this morning, in an article entitled, "2011: Nationals have added gloves — and strikeouts", with the players the Nationals have now, this is the best spot for him to hit:

""I think [Danny] Espinosa has a chance to be a 1 or 2 hitter, and [ian] Desmond has hit second," volunteered Werth, setting the stage for him to move to the traditional middle of the order when other Nats prove they’re suited for the top of the order. "But this [lineup] makes the most sense now."

SI.com's Mr. Verducci said much the same, explaining that Werth, "will look better in the Washington lineup when the Nats do add one or two such bats (an elite free agent such as Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols and uber-prospect Bryce Harper)." But with the lineup they have right now, it's going to be Ian Desmond leading off to start the season. 

Batting second last season, a spot in which he's put up a .326/.359/.489 line over 45 games and 201 plate appearances thus far in the majors, Desmond seemed to have found his spot, but he didn't start the season there. Asked during an interview early last season whether he preferred hitting in one spot in the lineup over another, Desmond explained that it made no difference to him. "It's the same," the then-24-year-old infielder said, "I just try to have a good solid at bat every time I get up there," but as Mr. Riggleman told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "Desmond fitting in at second slot in order", it was a process of working his way up in the order when he was ready:

"'Earlier in the year, to ask Desmond to come out of Spring Training as a rookie and produce like that, it would have been asking a lot. It's still a work in progress. We'll see what the future holds. Certainly, he looks more comfortable there.'"

Will Danny Espinosa go through the same process? It would be a lot of pressure on the 23-year-old switch-hitting infielder, and his .337 OBP in 542 plate appearances at Double and Triple-A in the Nats' system last season isn't ideal for a leadoff man, but as Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore wrote in an article last September entitled, "Danny Espinosa takes the leadoff spot as Nationals put brawl in the past", Espinosa, "hit either leadoff or second for most of this season at Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse." Mr. Kilgore quoted the Nats' Skipper, who gave Espinosa something of an audition as a leadoff man when Nyjer Morgan was suspended last season, in the same article explaining at the time that he didn't think it was role Espinosa would be, "...overwhelmed with, because he has done it."

Werth might be the best fit now, and he's saying the right things as he did in another recent interview with ESPN 980's The Sports Guys: "'Right now, with the personnel we’ve got and where some of the other guys are in their careers, it makes the most sense.'" Can Danny Espinosa work his way up to the top of the order? Nyjer Morgan's absence (because of suspension) last year gave Espinosa his first opportunity at the top of the order, and the trade that sent Morgan to Milwaukee has opened up the leadoff spot again. Will Espinosa end up there again once he's comfortable playing full-time in the majors or is that too much to ask of a rookie?

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