VIERA, Fla. - During his session with reporters earlier today, Bryce Harper was asked whether he felt moving to a spot in the middle of the batting order would be a normal progression for him.
“I hope not. I like the two-spot,” Harper replied, before adding that he’d gladly hit anywhere in the Nationals order as long as he remains in the lineup.
Davey Johnson doesn’t exactly buy that, largely because he says Harper has been telling him something else.
While Harper might be keeping his true preference of where he bats in the order hidden from reporters, Johnson has been formulating a game plan for how to structure his lineup for some time now. And because of the addition of the left-handed-hitting Denard Span, who will bat leadoff, and the Nationals’ great lefty-righty balance, it might make most sense to have a right-hander batting second and Harper in the three-hole.
“It’s all about making harder choices for the opposing manager on his matchups,” Johnson said. “I think our lineup this year is going to be even better balanced, left and right, than it was anytime in the past. So the two guys probably that I’m not sure where I’m going to hit are (Harper) and Jayson Werth. I haven’t talked to Jayson yet, but I’m sure he’ll have a lot of input and clarify things when he gets here. So that’ll probably have an effect on where I hit Harp.”
After slugging 22 home runs and posting 59 RBIs in 139 games last season as a 19-year-old, Harper could be ready to move down in the order and see his power numbers jump. If he hits third behind Werth (a righty), then Ryan Zimmerman (a righty) could hit cleanup, Adam LaRoche (a lefty) fifth, Ian Desmond (a righty) sixth, Danny Espinosa (switch-hitter) seventh and Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos (righties) eighth.
That order provides perfect left-right balance and also seems to put guys in slots that match their skill sets.
Johnson didn’t get into specifics on where he plans on slotting players, other than saying he likes hitting Desmond sixth, but he implied that Werth would be a good fit in the two-hole, which would probably leave Harper hitting third.
“Jayson with his left wrist, it’s still not where he wants it to be,” Johnson said. “He likes to take a lot of pitches. I don’t know Span that well but I know he’s a little more aggressive than your typical leadoff hitter. But it really worked pretty well last year with Jayson and Harp because pitchers had to use everything they had and they threw a lot of pitches (to) the first two guys. And I know Zim really liked that and the rest of the guys in the lineup because they’d see the whole repertoire.
“And it made it easier than, I guess, if I had Desmond up there. Desmond was hacking at anything he could reach. But I like Desi down the lineup at six. We’re just going to have to wait and see when Jayson gets here. Last year, I don’t think there was hardly anybody in both leagues who had a higher on-base percentage than Jayson Werth, and he looked at a lot of pitches and he was an outstanding two-strike hitter.
“But I’ll rely a lot on Jayson and where he feels he’s ready to hit. When he came back last year, I told him I was thinking about leading him off and he said, ‘That’s where I should hit.’ And he was outstanding. All the options are good. Either way it shakes out, it’s going to be a good lineup.”