After telling reporters following Wednesday afternoon's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals that he was planning on shaking things up in the Washington Nationals' lineup, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson talked today about the thinking behind the changes he did make. Jayson Werth's hitting cleanup tonight after starting the year in the two-hole. Steve Lombardozzi, who enters play today with a .345/.367/.448 line and three doubles in 14 games and 31 plate appearances, is playing third tonight in the series opener with Cincinnati and he's taking Werth's place batting second behind Nats' leadoff man Denard Span. The Nationals' 70-year-old skipper was asked in today's pregame press conference how much having left/right splits in the order and some protection for Bryce Harper had to do with moving Werth to fourth in the lineup, behind Harper and in front of Adam LaRoche, who returns after a day off.
"I like the lefty/righty thing," Johnson said, "And [Werth] was looking for a change, so, if I was going to move him out of the two-hole, probably the next best on-base guy I've got is [Lombardozzi], who did a lot of hitting one or two last year and I want to get him in the game." In 13 games and 57 plate appearances in the two-hole last season, Lombardozzi had a .314/.364/.373 line batting second, with a .292/.333/.338 line in the two-hole in his major league career, which includes just two more games and six PAs.
Lombardozzi's playing third tonight, however, which Davey Johnson hinted would be the case last night. Asked when he said he needed to get the switch-hitting infielder into the lineup if that meant he'd take over for Danny Espinosa at second, Johnson said, "Uh, no. Probably not." The Nationals' manager want to keep Espinosa on the field and at the plate so he can get his second baseman going. Through 17 games and 61 PAs this season, the switch-hitter, who turned 26 today, has a .155/.197/.293 line with five doubles and one home run so far this season in his fourth major league campaign.
"I still need to get Espinosa going," Johnson said, before joking, "And it's his birthday today, so you have to know all these things."
"Again, my main concern is getting guys going," the Nats' skipper explained, "Getting something going for one or two guys and getting something going overall and it kind of snowballs, it can go both ways. Just a little something, a little bloop here and there, a walk, can get us going."
As for whether or not the changes he made today are going to stick, Johnson said, "This is what I'm doing today, let's not get ahead of ourselves. I really like the way our lineup [ was when] we started the season. And with [Ryan Zimmerman] out it kind of changes the dynamics. It's the old adage. 'If you're going to get beat, get beat making a change.' So I made a change."
When Zimmerman returns from the 15-Day DL, the lineup will likely return to the way it was on Opening Day.
With the losses mounting, four overall and six-straight at home, Johnson made some changes. "I always take responsibility for losses," the veteran manager said, "I think I'm not doing what I need to do to make it more comfortable for guys. I'm more apt to make a lot of changes, but with this group it's been more of just a waiting. Waiting for everybody to get comfortable. We've got a new leadoff man. Werth hitting -- instead of leading off -- hitting second. [Harper] hitting third. Just waiting for all that to kind of start feeling more relaxing, for guys to get more quality at bats."
"And rather than throwing the whole bench in the lineup and doing a whole bunch of different things," the Nationals' manager explained, "which I call over-managing, just let them go play. And it's also, they're all so motivated anyway, it's almost like I don't want to push them as if they could try harder, which I don't think they can. So it's more of less is better than more push for me."
"It's such a long haul, that it's sometime tough for manager to have patience," Johnson concluded, "but I've been down that road before."
• Here's the entire Nats' lineup for the first game of four with the Cincinnati Reds:
#Nationals lineup vs. CIN: Span 8, Lombardozzi 5, Harper 7, Werth 9, LaRoche 3, Desmond 6, Espinosa 4, Suzuki 2, Gonzalez 1— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) April 25, 2013
• Game Time 7:05 pm EST in D.C.