Given the way Adam LaRoche has been struggling at the plate lately, Davey Johnson knew LaRoche would be taking early batting practice today to try and find a groove.
Johnson was curious how LaRoche's cage session would go, so he popped out to the field this afternoon to watch his first baseman take some cuts. Only problem was, LaRoche wasn't in the group rotating into the cage.
The Nationals had so many players getting in early BP that LaRoche, mired in an 0-for-11 slump with eight strikeouts, was in the second group of players waiting to hit.
"We had nine guys hit early. That's a first for me," Johnson said. "So that's a good sign."
Johnson has LaRoche hitting fifth today, behind Jayson Werth, who is in the cleanup spot. Steve Lombardozzi has slid into the No. 2 spot in the order, with Johnson giving his .345-hitting utility infielder a shot to get some at-bats.
Given the way the lineup is constructed tonight, and with the Nats facing the right-hander Bronson Arroyo, they again alternate left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters from 1-8 in the order, just as they did early in the season before Ryan Zimmerman landed on the DL with a strained left hamstring.
"I like the lefty-righty thing," Johnson said. "And (Werth) was looking for a change. So if you move him out of the two-hole, the next best on-base guy is Lombo who did a lot of hitting one or two last year. And I want to get him in the game."
Johnson opted to have Lombardozzi play third base, giving Anthony Rendon a day off. Rendon is 2-for-15 since joining the Nats for his big league debut on Sunday.
Lombardozzi's natural position is second base, but the struggling Danny Espinosa stays there tonight.
"I still need to get Espinosa going," Johnson said. "And it's his birthday today. You have to know all these things. But again, my main concern is getting guys going. Getting something going for one or two guys and getting something going overall. It kinda snowballs. It can go both ways. Just a little something. A bloop here or there. A walk can get us going."
Don't count on tonight's lineup being the same one we'll see long term; Johnson's just doing whatever he can to get his guys jump-started. When Zimmerman is back, things will likely return to how they were a couple weeks ago.
"I really like the way our lineup started the season," Johnson said. "And with Zim out, it kinda changes that dynamics. The old adage: If you're going to get beat, get beat making a change."
Speaking of Zimmerman, general manager Mike Rizzo said that Zimmerman did some running yesterday and today and it looks like he could be ready to start ramping up his baseball activities soon. The Nats remain hopeful that Zimmerman will be ready to rejoin them when he's eligible to come off the DL May 3.
Wilson Ramos, meanwhile, will head out on a rehab assignment tomorrow. The Nats catcher, who is also on the DL with a strained left hamstring, will join Double-A Harrisburg in its game at Bowie. He'll catch three innings and then the Nats will see how he responds to that workload.
"I think he'll be awful close and I think that he's going to get the green light from the doctors," Johnson said. "He says he feels great now, he's been running, doing a lot of stuff. He probably could be ready to come off when he's due to come off."
Ramos is eligible to come off the DL on Monday.