The Nationals’ lineup has a new look tonight, in the sense that different players are in the first and seventh spots than there have been all year and a catcher is starting in back-to-back games for the first time this year.
But none of the moves the Nats made - putting Danny Espinosa in the leadoff spot, dropping Ian Desmond to the No. 7 spot and playing Wilson Ramos for a second night in a row - were a big surprise. All of the changes fell within the spectrum of moves the Nationals have discussed, and the way all three players have been playing almost made them inevitable.
Espinosa, who has a .405 on-base percentage, will lead off, while Desmond - who doesn’t have a hit in a home game - gets at least a night to work out his struggles lower in the lineup. The shortstop said he made a couple of swing adjustments during batting practice today, and is hoping he’ll see the results in tonight’s game.
“It’s not the leadoff spot. It’s just my swing,” Desmond said. “They’ve been giving me pitches to hit. That’s the frustrating part. I was swinging at strikes. I just wasn’t hitting them. Now, I’ve got to make some adjustments. I think I did, and we’ll see what happens tonight.”
Espinosa has seen 3.88 pitches per plate appearance, a significant improvement over Desmond’s 3.51, though manager Jim Riggleman said he doesn’t want Espinosa to do anything different hitting first than he normally would.
The manager also added a new wrinkle to the conversation about how both players are evaluated: He said Desmond and Espinosa, at least at this point, are here primarily for their defense, and the Nationals will wait for their offense to develop.
“Desi and Danny both are going to be mainstays on this ballclub and in this lineup because of their gloves,” Riggleman said. “The offensive part of their game is something we’re going to grow to appreciate as they move along, get more and more at-bats, see the league and get a book on these opposing pitchers. But their talent defensively is going to have to be what really solidifies them. Where they’re hitting in the lineup and how they’re hitting, it’s a big deal for people. But it’s less of a deal for me than how they’re playing defense.”
Ramos gets the nod at catcher for the second night in a row largely because there’s a lefty on the mound for the second straight game; Riggleman said the Nationals will try to get him in the lineup most nights against lefties because he’s got more potential to hit them for power than Ivan Rodriguez does.
“This is tough for Pudge, because Pudge is probably going to be facing most of the right-handed tough guys,” Riggleman said. “But (Wilson’s) power is such that I really want him in there against left-handed pitching. ... Basically, I want him in there pretty much any time a left-hander’s pitching.”