Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson joked with reporters all weekend about how his lineup will shake out now that Denard Span's on board to lead off for the defending NL East champs. Where will Jayson Werth hit? What about Bryce Harper? The Nats' skipper has some ideas...
When 20-year-old Washington Nationals' outfielder Bryce Harper was asked earlier this week what he thought about Davey Johnson hinting that the slugger might move out of the two-hole in his second pro season, the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick said that though he preferred hitting where he had through most of his rookie campaign he trusted his manager's judgement. "I like the two-spot," Harper said. "I think it's a good spot for me especially with Denard leading off and [Ryan Zimmerman] behind me. But wherever [Davey Johnson] wants to put me is fine. Davey's a great manager, he's got a great mind and hopefully I'm always in the lineup. That's the only thing that matters to me."
"With the addition of a left-handed bat leading off," in center fielder/leadoff man Denard Span, the Nats' 70-year-old skipper explained when his young outfielder's comments were brought to his attention, "I like to vary them. So this Spring is going to be kind of a test where I think they fit the best." Johnson said his main concern was making matchups difficult for opposing managers. "I think our lineup is [going] to be better balanced, left and right than it was any time in the past," Johnson said. "The two guys probably that I'm not sure where I'm going to hit [them] are probably [Harper] and Jayson Werth. And I haven't talked to Jayson yet and I'm sure he'll have a lot of input."
Werth, the Nats' 33-year-old right fielder, held court with reporters on Saturday, and though the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore said the veteran declined to share his thoughts on the lineup, Werth did make a point about why two left-handers like Span and Harper might not work in the top two spots:
"[Werth] said it wouldn’t make sense for Harper to hit second behind Span, and not only because that would put two left-handed hitters atop the lineup. He considered the ninth spot, where a pinch-hitter will most often be batting late in game. The Nationals’ best pinch-hitter is Chad Tracy, who [is] also lefty. So, putting Span-Harper at 1-2 would set up three lefties to hit consecutively late in games, giving the opposing manager an easy shot to bring in a lefty reliever."
"See, he's got it figured out," Johnson joked with reporters on Saturday when informed of Werth's comments. The Nats' skipper then turned things around on reporters, asking a series of questions about what they'd heard from the outfielder.
"Where did [Werth] slide himself [into the lineup]?" Johnson asked.
Werth hadn't said.
"Did you ask him about his wrist? What did he say there?" Johnson wondered.
He said it was progressing well.
"How is it compared to when he finished the season?" Johnson persisted.
It was better. Werth had explained to reporters, however, that his wrist still was not back to 100% and he said his doctors told him it could be as long as 18-24 months post-surgery before he was fully-recovered. "That's the long ball," Johnson said, seeming to mean that it was when Werth's power would return completely. "How's his drag bunting? Sacrificing?" Johnson joked.
After the team's first full workouts on Sunday, Johnson brought the topic back up in his press conference with reporters when he was asked about the importance of the addition of a player with Denard Span's skill set. "I like the fact, two things, that he's a leadoff hitter; he hits good against both left and right; great defensive center fielder," Johnson said. "I thought we had a pretty good, after Werth came back, hitting leadoff and Harper second, and I don't know if Jayson said anything to you today about the lineup? Did he have any comments to you guys?"
The outfielder's comments from Saturday when he implied what the order might be were mentioned. A reporter pointed out that though Werth wasn't explicit, his comments essentially amounted to having Span lead off with himself (Werth) second, Harper third, Ryan Zimmerman fourth and Adam LaRoche fifth.
"Well today," Johnson said, "When I went over to them, and [Werth] hasn't said anything to me about where he should hit, but he did volunteer... somebody over to my left said something, 'Well, where's Harper going to hit?' and then Werth was over here, he said, 'Third.'"
"So when I heard that," the Nats' skipper said, "I figured, knowing what I know about Jayson Werth, he's trying to clear up the second spot and the fifth spot for himself so that depending on how he comes along he'll have the availability to go where he wants to go."
If Werth hits fifth? Who hits second? Ian Desmond?
"No," Johnson said, "Then I would hit Harper second."
"Even though it would be left, left?" a reporter asked.
"Even though it would be left, left." Johnson said.