Jayson Werth will bat second for Nationals

LAKELAND, Fla. - Get ready to meet one of the most handsomely compensated No. 2 hitters in the game.

Jayson Werth, whom the Nationals had said would bat third at the beginning of the spring, will instead start the year in the No. 2 spot, manager Jim Riggleman said today.

Werth hit there in 31 games for the Phillies in 2008, alternating between the No. 2 and No. 5 spots in the lineup. When he talked to Riggleman this winter, Werth brought up the idea of hitting second. And when Riggleman mentioned the idea to Werth today, the $126 million man was all for it.

“He actually mentioned it before I did,” Riggleman said. “I said, ‘I’ve actually thought a lot about that, but let’s just see what it looks like in spring training with some other guys hitting first and second.’ It’s one of those things where you’re kind of feeling like that’s the best way to go, and everybody kind of rallies around it - (general manager) Mike (Rizzo), (hitting coach Rick) Eckstein, Werth himself. It just seems like there are a lot of opinions that that’s probably the way to go.”

Ryan Zimmerman will hit third for the Nationals, followed by Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse. Against left-handed pitchers, the Nationals might have a different look, but they’ll roll with a 2-3-4-5 of Werth-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Morse most days.

It seems odd at first blush to have Werth - who might be the Nationals’ best run producer - hitting that high in the lineup. He has career marks of .252/.340/.475 in 94 games he’s started from the second spot. But he led the National League in pitches per plate appearance last year, and hitting him second means every pitcher will face both Werth and Zimmerman in the first inning of a game. Both players had .388 on-base percentages last year, and the Nationals like their chances of having at least one runner on base when LaRoche comes to the plate.

“I think it probably fits our club best,” Riggleman said. “Now, if you have a 1 and 2 hitter that, clearly, that’s what they are, just outstanding 1 and 2 hitters, you leave Jayson somewhere in that 3-4-5 area. But that was an area last year where we didn’t have a high on-base in those two slots.”

One problem with the arrangement might be that it puts too much of the onus on LaRoche and Morse to drive in runs, giving Werth and Zimmerman fewer plate appearances with runners in scoring position. But the Nationals’ first and second hitters had .300 and .326 OBPs last year, respectively. Hitting Werth second might not be the perfect solution, but the Nationals think it’s the best remedy they can concoct for what was one of their biggest offensive problems last year.