MIAMI - Yesterday, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he was leaning toward putting Danny Espinosa in the leadoff spot tonight against the Marlins. He’d talked to both Espinosa and Ian Desmond about hitting there after the Nationals traded Nyjer Morgan, and he was thinking it might be better to put Espinosa (who hit there 18 times last year) at the top of the lineup for a day while Desmond tried to get out of his 0-for-13 slump in the seventh spot.
Then Riggleman changed his mind.
He talked to several Nationals coaches today, and came away deciding not to change the lineup yet. Desmond will hit first tonight, with Espinosa back in the seventh spot.
“It’s something we may tinker with as we go along. I’m sure we will,” Riggleman said. “But right now, we’re just going to leave Desi where he is.”
Espinosa said no one had told him that he was hitting leadoff today, adding he was fine with the decision to leave things the way they were.
At the heart of the back-and-forth is the fact that the Nationals don’t have a leadoff hitter they’re completely comfortable with. The 18 games Espinosa hit there last year, and his month of leadoff work at Double-A Harrisburg last year, makes him the more experienced of the team’s two legitimate options there. As the saying goes, if you have two of something, you really don’t have anything.
So the Nationals are left hoping one of their talented young middle infielders will fill the spot. Ideally, both of them would blossom into top-of-the-order hitters so they could move Jayson Werth out of the No. 2 spot. But they’d settle for one player becoming a fixture in the leadoff spot for now.
“A lot of our guys fit real well in the two spot. But none of them are typical one hitters,” Riggleman said. “The thing we haven’t really seen is Espinosa hit leadoff. I know he did it in the minor leagues, but it’s not jumping out to us that he’s a leadoff hitter. If somebody jumped out to us as a leadoff hitter, we might lean more toward that.”
In four games, the Nationals only have one plate appearance where they’ve put a man on base - when Jerry Hairston Jr. drew an eighth-inning walk last night. Werth followed that with a drive off the left field wall that nearly scored Hairston, and the Nationals would like to put him in more situations with men on base. But they don’t have enough sure things at this point to move him.
Espinosa said he was “fine with it” when he hit leadoff for the Nationals last season, adding there were times he put a lot of pressure on himself to get things going. But he also said he was uneasy in general last September, feeling like more of an extension of the team than part of it.
“You come up, you’re young and you get a month,” Espinosa said. “It’s tough. You haven’t really been through the ups and downs and the struggles with the team. Part of (coming up) is, ‘Congraulations, you had a good season.’ Being here from the start, you feel like you’re more a part of things.”
Whether that leads to him growing into a catalyst at the top of the lineup remains to be seen. For now, the Nationals are still mixing and matching.
“I’d like (Werth) to come up with men on base,” Riggleman said. “Right now, if I was hitting somebody else one and two, we’re not seeing where that’s going to play out that way yet. It will, but that’s just the way it’s broke.”