Mike Rizzo talked this winter, at Daniel Murphy's introductory press conference, about where the Washington Nationals' new second baseman could hit in the Nats' lineup. Murphy, 30, hit predominantly third (201 plate appearances) and fifth (156 PAs) last season in New York, with 113 PAs as the Mets' two hitter. He put up a .370/.425/.650 line there on the year.
He's made the majority of his major league plate appearances hitting second (1,746 PAs), with a .306/.351/.445 line as a no.2 hitter over his seven seasons as a Met.
So where is he going to hit with the Nationals after signing a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal this winter?
"I want him to hit where he hits the most times," Rizzo told reporters in December. "The more plate appearances the better for me. You're talking about a guy that struck out the least amount in all of major league baseball last year. He's a professional hitter. Can fall out of bed hitting. And he's shown it against us."
Murphy told reporters today that he spoke to new Nationals' manager Dusty Baker before arriving at Spring Training and told him he was willing to do whatever was asked of him this season.
"I think coming into it, the understanding is this is about winning baseball games," Murphy said today, as quoted by Washington Times' writer Todd Dybas:
"How can we do that as a group, collectively? I'm going to do whatever I'm told. I've always felt that if you get to the end of a season and you accomplish all the goals that you set as a team and individually it's going to look the way you want to. That ends up being a secondary aspect, I think, of the season. Whatever Dusty wants to do as far as positioning, batting order and all that stuff, he's putting in a lot of work and [we] get to do the fun part, which is go play."
Baker told reporters today that he was impressed with what he heard from Murphy during their phone call.
"He made it easy," Baker said. "He asked me, 'What do you expect from me, Skip?' or, 'What do you need out of me?' You know. Most times that's what I'm telling you, that's not usually what they're asking me. That was a very nice phone call. Very sincere phone call I should say. When I was on TBS, Gary Sheffield, that was one of his favorites, talking about [Daniel] Murphy. And I felt like I kind of knew him a little bit through Gary Sheffield. This guy comes to play and he said, 'Whatever you need. I'll bat wherever you want me to bat, I'll play wherever you want me to play.' He just wants to win, big-time."
Baker said he has come up with "about twelve" different lineups for the Nationals when thinking about where everyone might hit this season, with his thoughts changing after the Nationals added Ben Revere and depending on who is in the lineup each day, but he hasn't talked to the players about where they're comfortable yet.
"I've got to talk to some of the guys," he explained, "because as a player, believe it or not, there's certain spots where guys like to hit."
"I hated batting fourth," Baker said. "I don't know why. I was never that big strong guy, batting fourth, you're supposed to clean up, I wasn't cleaning up nothing."
"Every spot in the order has a different responsibility. That's what people don't understand."
So what is he looking for in a no.2 hitter?
"I want my no.2 guy to have bat control. I want my no.2 guy to be the smartest hitter in the lineup really," Baker said.
"From talking to Jim Gilliam and with my teammate Bill Russell, contact guy, guy who can handle the bat. Guy who's not afraid to take pitches to let the leadoff man run, drive in a few runs, score some runs, it depends how the other guy is behind you and he's a double leadoff man when your leadoff man ain't getting on. I think two and seven in this league are very, very responsible batting order positions."
Does that sound like Murphy? Assuming Ben Revere leads off, if Murphy was second, would Bryce Harper be hitting clean-up? Is that lineup too left-hand heavy up top? Does Harper stay in the three-hole, with Murphy fifth? Where would you have Murphy hitting if you were Baker?
"I don't know," he said, when asked how the addition of another left-handed bat like Murphy's in the lineup might impact Harper.
"It just depends on where Murph hits. I'm going to try to separate them if I can so the opposition doesn't just bring in one lefty to handle both of them. Even though they both handle lefties pretty well, I'd rather not do that. And a lot of it depends on the health of the other guys. Like I said, I have written out probably like about twelve lineups..."