At catcher and in left field, Nationals try to find a balance

The Nationals will only start five of eight position players tonight who took the field for them on opening day. Some of that is because of injuries (Ryan Zimmerman and Rick Ankiel are on the disabled list), but in other spots, the team is playing a player who’s essentially making up one half of a platoon at the moment.

Wilson Ramos is back at catcher tonight, starting for the fifth time in six games after Ivan Rodriguez drove in three runs and threw out a runner in the team’s win over the Marlins on Sunday. The Nationals are trying to give more and more of the playing time to the rookie catcher, even as a 4-for-33 start in May has dropped his average to .267 and Rodriguez continues to play well in spots.

It’s possible that the Nationals have Rodriguez in his ideal role right now, playing two to three times a week and allowing the 39-year-old to stay fresh. They have to be diligent, though, when he impresses like he did on Sunday.

“I certainly want to get the most out of both of them, but I think we do have to develop Ramos’ game for the long term here,” Riggleman said. “It’s not going to help if I play him sparingly, or every time Pudge gets it going a little bit, I sit Ramos because of that. I don’t think we’re going to find out what we have here in Ramos (if I do that).”

And in left field, Michael Morse starts for the first time in six games, batting sixth with left-hander Paul Maholm on the mound. At the moment, that seems to be Morse’s best chance to get a start; Riggleman said he wants his opening day left fielder in the lineup when a lefty’s on the mound, and will continue to use Laynce Nix in left when there’s a righty pitching. Morse has clearly lost his lock on the everyday job in left, though he still represents the Nationals’ best source of right-handed power off the bench and a likely candidate to be in the lineup against most lefties.

“Early in the year, we started him against everybody, and he was struggling,” Riggleman said. “We took advantage of what Nix was doing. Right now, if a right-hander’s pitching, Nix is going to be in (left). If a left-hander’s pitching, Morse is going to be in there.”