PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - As a rookie last season, shortstop Ian Desmond sometimes batted eighth over the first four months of the season. It was a low-pressure spot in the order, and Desmond struggled to generate offense.
Desmond struggled in the No. 8 hole, batting .254 with a .304 on-base percentage. When he assumed the second spot in the batting order for much of the season's final two months, Desmond flourished, hitting .326 with an on-base percentage of .359, which helped jump his season totals to .269/.308.
What the Nationals learned from Desmond's experience last year has made it easier for manager Jim Riggleman to decide where rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa will hit in the batting order.
"If I made the lineup up tomorrow, it would probably be Espinosa hitting seventh," Riggleman said before Saturday's Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets.
Simply put, the batter hitting eighth is at a disadvantage because it's baseball's version of a black hole. Eighth-place hitters, right in front of the pitcher's spot in the order, rarely get anything to hit as opposing hurlers opt to nibble, preferring to pitch to a weaker hitter in the pitcher.
"Eighth is just tough in the National League," Riggleman said. "The pitcher's behind you. You can protect somebody by not htiting them eighth, but you're not protecting the guy who is hitting eighth. Somebody's got to hit there. It's an issue."
One that the Nationals feel would be best served by putting Espinosa seventh with the team's catcher hitting eighth.