PHILADELPHIA - Scott Hairston’s stocky, solid, 6-foot, 205-lb. frame doesn’t really scream “leadoff hitter.”
Yet, that’s what Hairston will be tonight for the 100th time in his career.
Hairston is listed atop the Nationals’ lineup tonight, as manager Davey Johnson has opted to give Denard Span the night off and put Hairston in there against Phillies lefty Cole Hamels. Hairston hits lefties well, and he hits Hamels very well, so that made the decision easy for Johnson.
“I expect him to not get cheated up there,” Johnson said. “He’s had a pretty good career against this guy he’s facing today. And it’s a good time to welcome him to the club and he can welcome Hamels, too. We’ve had some problems with Hamels in the past.”
Not surprisingly, the numbers against Hamels (12-for-30 with five homers and five doubles) played a big factor in Hairston being chosen as tonight’s leadoff hitter.
“Yeah, pitch around this guy. The other guys can hit behind him, too,” Johnson said. “But I know he’s had a pretty good career against us over the years, so it’s nice to have him over here.”
Span has been a really solid hitter against left-handed pitching over the course of his career, posting a .278/.358/.373 slash line off southpaws. But this season, Span’s had serious trouble against lefties, hitting .154/.222/.176 off them. In his 91 at-bats against left-handers, Span has two extra-base hits.
Hairston will start in Span’s place tonight, but that might be something we’ll see at times in the future, as well.
“I think (Span will) come out of it, but also I think it will send a message around the league that I will use Hairston in his spot,” Johnson said. “It also causes some problems for the other managers. When they go to their bullpen in a lefty situation, I might could use Hairston. That prevents them from doing that and enables Spanny to hit.
“So it just opens up more options and creates matchup problems for the other managers. It’s good.”
Back to Hairston, he’s hit better in the leadoff spot than any other over his career, posting a strong .288/.344/.553 slash line atop the order. He says he doesn’t necessarily change his approach when leading off, and isn’t any more comfortable in that spot. He’s just has had success there, for whatever reason.
“I don’t know if comfort’s the word, but I’m OK with it,” Hairston said. “I think when it matters the most is the first at-bat of the game. After that, it really doesn’t come into play as much. I just try to have a really good at-bat when I’m leading off. I know I haven’t in a while, but for the most part, I don’t change my approach because I’ve learned that I do better when I don’t think about it as much. Just go out and try to get on base.”
As for his success against Hamels?
“Each day is different, and he might pitch me differently than he’s ever pitched me tonight,” said Hairston, who commented that he’s not sure why specifically he’s had such success against Hamels. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I just try to put myself in a situation where I get into a good hitter’s count. I’ve just got to see what he’s working with.
“I saw video of his last start, and it seemed like his changeup was working really well. Tonight might be different than his last start. Baseball is a cat and mouse game. So just got to see him early and stay focused and put together good at-bats.”
Bryce Harper hasn’t played center field since Game 5 of the National League Division Series, but he jumped at the opportunity when Johnson presented it last night.
“I talked to him yesterday,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Harp, you think your legs are good enough to play center field?’ (He said), ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I’m ready.’ He likes center field. He can run around. He likes that. I don’t have a problem playing him. Hairston has mostly been playing the corners the last couple years anyway.”