With eight of the Washington Nationals' nine expected everyday players when the season started back in the lineup for the series opener against the Miami Marlins last night, Nats' skipper Matt Williams went with Anthony Rendon atop the order, Yunel Escobar batting second, Jayson Werth third in front of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman behind Harper in the five-hole and Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos and Michael Taylor, sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
The big additions to the Nationals' lineup, of course, after Rendon returned from the DL last weekend, were Werth and Zimmerman, who came off the Disabled List and rehab stints and were immediately placed around Harper in the order, which is something Matt Williams told MLB Network Radio hosts Steve Phillips and Todd Hollandsworth this morning he thinks will help everyone out though everyone in the lineup faced a tough starter in the Marlins' Jose Fernandez last night.
"With Jayson in the three-hole and Ryan in the five-hole, it's certainly comfort-level for them, that's where they have hit for an extended period of time," Williams explained.
The Nationals had opportunities against Fernandez, the second-year skipper said, but failed to cash them in, but as he's said all season, continuing to create them is the key.
Williams also said he thinks having Werth and Zimmerman back and hitting where they are will help Harper.
"Bryce's year so far has been great," he said. "He really likes the four-hole. He's hitting over .360 in the four-hole and .290 in the three-hole, so he's comfortable there and like I said, those opportunities were out there, one swing of the bat could make a difference for us, and it didn't happen last night, but it will at some point."
Harper's splits are actually .295/.400/.583 in 155 PAs in the three-hole and .356/.500/.733 in 234 PAs batting fourth, but the Nationals' manager was speaking extemporaneously of course.
Williams was asked about Harper's numbers so far this month too.
Through 21 games this month, the 22-year-old slugger has a .294/.448/.515 line with six doubles, three home runs, 18 walks and 20 Ks in 87 PAs.
"It's just a matter of what he gets to hit," Williams explained. "And I think having those other guys back in the lineup will certainly help those opportunities for Bryce, but it's a question of what you get to hit.
"So I, for one, have very close experience with something like that. I got to hit behind Barry Bonds for a number of years. I was the guy that they pitched around Bonds to get to and they're just not going to allow Bryce to hit a ball over the fence if they can help it."
"Those July numbers I think are what has happened because we've had guys out, so you've had those pregame meetings where you go, 'Okay, who's not going to beat us?' And the first name that comes to the plate is 'Harper'.
"So if there's a situation out there where you've got a guy on second base, they certainly won't give him anything to hit, but to have the other guys that are proven run-producers in our lineup now it will help us and hopefully get [Harper] more pitches to hit. And if we can sandwich him between those other two guys then they'll create opportunities for him."
Here's the Nationals' lineup for tonight's game against the Marlins and right-hander Tom Koehler:
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