Riggleman pencils in 2011 starting lineup

Now that the Nationals have Adam LaRoche in the fold and patrolling first base, the 2011 starting nine is taking shape. So without Adam Dunn in the cleanup spot, does that mean that Jayson Werth will instantly slide into that role?

Manager Jim Riggleman says Werth can go there sometimes. So could Ryan Zimmerman or LaRoche, depending on pitching matchups.

With left-handed hitters Nyjer Morgan, Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel, Corey Brown, LaRoche and switch-hitter Danny Epinosa, Riggleman has choices if he wanted to go righty-lefty. Maybe not as many choices as last season at 3-4-5, but certainly opportunities to alternate if he wanted to.

Overall, Riggleman is intrigued by the possibilities and feels the improvement on defense, especially up the middle, will help off set the possibility of fewer home runs at first base.

“We will look at trying to solidify the lineup (next month at spring training),” Riggleman said. “The player’s production and how they are swinging the bat at that time will have some control over that. We don’t want to get locked into something particular. Sometimes guys are just not comfortable at a particular position, whether it is the two, three, four or five slot in the lineup.”

So if Riggleman had to choose right now, what order would the heart of the lineup be in?

“In a perfect world, we would probably like to have Zimmerman three, Werth four and LaRoche five,” Riggleman said. “But we may want to bring the right-handers up 3-4-5 and go Zimm, LaRoche and Werth. Then the left fielder, whomever that is, would probably hit behind that fifth hitter. We would want that sixth hitter to give some protection for that guy there.”

Riggleman said the Nationals have some very good candidates in left field.

“If it is Roger Bernandina, Michael Morse or Rick Ankiel, whichever of those three guys is swinging the bat the best, we would certainly need them in there to protect the fifth hitter,” Riggleman said. “You could make a case at times hitting Zimmerman fourth, hitting Werth third, LaRoche fifth.”

Obviously, the lineup can change when you have a player who has had good numbers versus a particular starter.

“Every now and then, you get a particular situation where you got a guy who has had great success against a certain pitcher so you want to make sure he is the guy that gets that extra at-bat during the game, maybe hit him higher in the lineup that day,” Riggleman said. “For the most part, all of those guys - Zimmerman, LaRoche and Werth - have all hit 3-4-5 sometime in their careers, so I don’t think any of those spots are going to be a problem.”

So would Morgan be your leadoff guy again? Do the Nationals now have options with better speed at the top of the order?

“Ideally, your guy at the top gets on base, No. 1,” Riggleman said. “If they are also a menace to the pitcher by the stolen base threat, that is even better yet. The on-base percentage is the main issue. We need a couple guys at the top of the order getting on base. Ian Desmond did a good job last year when we hit him second.”

That is where it could get interesting because Riggleman says a lot of the guys on the roster feel most comfortable batting second. Unfortunately, only one guy can do it.

“Morgan did a good job hitting second,” Riggleman said. “Desmond did a good job hitting second. Bernadina (did a good job) hitting second. You could make a case with Ankiel in the lineup, he would be a good second hitter.”

Viera and the month of March will be the dress rehearsal Riggleman needs to make that decision.

“We are going to use spring training to get a feel for that,” Riggleman said. “We want to see who is swinging the bat best. But the No. 1 priority is we would like to get a higher on-base percentage out of the one and two slots in the order than we did last season.”

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