LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ian Desmond’s place atop the Washington Nationals’ batting order Thursday night was more a byproduct of the absence of outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Roger Bernadina from the travel squad.
But with center field still unclaimed two weeks before the Nats’ March 31 opener, could Desmond eventually fulfill that role?
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was careful to couch an answer to that question, but left no doubt that Desmond would be in the mix for leadoff duties should someone other than Morgan wind up the regular center fielder.
“Desmond would be a strong candidate to do that,” Riggleman said. “That’s one of the considerations we have to make if anybody other than Nyjer’s the center fielder - who’s going to lead off?”
Traditionally, a leadoff batter is a guy with a good eye who takes a lot of pitches, works counts deep so teammates can get a handle on how a pitcher is throwing and ignites an offense. That sometimes describes Morgan, but Desmond can be a more aggressive hitter because he possesses some power.
Still, Riggleman could see Desmond getting more than spot duty in the No. 1 hole without sacrificing production.
“He’s certainly not your prototypical leadoff hitter,” Riggleman said of Desmond, who has led off once in his brief major league career, going 1-for-5. “If he’s hitting leadoff, we won’t ask him to change his game. We would rather have him be (thinking) more that he’s just leading off an inning.”
Desmond has drawn only 33 walks in 663 plate appearances during his Nationals career. But toward the end of last season, he showed a propensity for working walks, particularly late in games when a base runner was needed.
“We’re not looking for him to go up and take pitches, or get information to give to guys on the club after that first at-bat. We would just let him play and see what happens,” Riggleman said.
Riggleman will be fielding these kind of questions as long as he’s deciding between Morgan, Bernadina and Rick Ankiel in center field. The query came again before Thursday’s game and the manager quickly and emphatically short-circuited a reporter wondering whether Morgan’s hold on the job was in jeopardy.
“There’s an ‘if’ in front of all the names,” Riggleman said.