Nationals need Laynce Nix to stay healthy

At the beginning of spring training, nobody was giving Laynce Nix much of a shot to make the Nationals’ roster. Even then-manager Jim Riggleman said Nix would have a tough time fighting through what appeared to be a crowded outfield to win a spot on the roster, and if he made it, it looked like Nix would be pinch hitting, not starting on a regular basis.

More than four months later, Nix is fighting a sore right Achilles tendon to stay on the field every day, because the Nationals need him in the middle of their lineup. That’s largely because of how much the 30-year-old has exceeded expectations, hitting .286 with an .851 OPS in 64 games. But the Nationals’ outfield is also much thinner than they expected it to be this spring, and with Nix having left a game early for the second time in a week because of his sore Achilles, the team could be looking at a void.

Nix has played well enough to put himself in the lineup most days, but the Nationals have also used him as much as they have because of injuries; Michael Morse is playing first base every day with Adam LaRoche out for the season, and Rick Ankiel is in Florida for the second time this year on a rehab assignment. If Nix is out for an extended period of time, the Nationals would be looking at starting Jerry Hairston Jr. or Brian Bixler in left field, and trying to patch together the middle of their lineup again after it seemed like they’d found something with Morse, Nix and Danny Espinosa. That’d be hard enough if Jayson Werth was hitting in right field, but he’s of course batting .224.

So the Nationals find themselves in a position where they’re hoping Nix can play through pain and continue to be effective. And Nix’s statistics would suggest he’ll fall off at some point - he’s got a .328 average on balls in play, and is hitting homers on a whopping 18.8 percent of his fly balls, a career high and more than double what he did last year. But the Nationals’ outfield has been stretched to the point where they don’t have many suitable replacements for Nix if he’s hurt. So they’ll do what didn’t seem likely at the beginning of the year; they’ll hope they can keep putting Nix in the middle of their lineup.