SAN DIEGO - As the Nationals have continued to struggle to put men on base, getting their leadoff hitters on base less than any spot in the lineup other than their pitchers, they've tried just about everyone they can think of in the leadoff spot: Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston Jr.
Their newest leadoff hitter - Jayson Werth - is in some ways their most drastic choice. But in others, it might be their most sensible.
Even as his batting average continues to languish, Werth has proven his ability to draw a walk and get himself on base; his .345 on-base percentage, which is 101 points higher than his batting average, is the second-highest mark on the team, and Werth leads the Nationals with 30 walks.
So manager Jim Riggleman will try him at the top of the order tonight, in hopes he can get the offense going.
"We've been talking for a while about maybe having Jayson lead off," Riggleman said. "Really, the only guy who's got a good on-base percentage is Jayson. Jayson has talked about it in recent days, we've tossed it around in the coaches' room. We have just not been a successful offensive ballclub to this point, so we've got to try something."
Werth, who is a career .253 hitter in 22 games in the leadoff spot, said he was fine with the idea. "Nothing really changes, except I'm leading off the game," he said. The last time he did it was June 2, 2010, against the Braves. Before that, Werth hadn't led off since July 6, 2008.
And pitcher John Lannan is batting eighth, in a move that has a bit of an ironic twist. Because Lannan might be one of the Nationals' weakest hitting pitchers, Riggleman said the move carried no implication that a position player was being demoted - which might not be the case if, say, Jason Marquis was hitting eighth.
"It's probably better that it's this way," Riggleman said. "Our best-hitting pitcher is Marquis. Then it could be perceived as, 'Oh, you think this guy is a better hitter than me.' So it has nothing to do with it. The quality of the pitcher, the way he swings the bat, is not really in the equation at all."
The Nationals have Danny Espinosa batting third, though it's easier to put that lineup together with a left-hander (Clayton Richard) on the mound than it would be with a right-hander, since Espinosa is so much better batting from the right side of the plate than he is from the left. They'll also have to figure out where to put hitters once Ryan Zimmerman comes back, possibly as soon as Tuesday.
But the Nationals will try this lineup tonight, and will probably use it tomorrow to see how it goes against a right-hander (Tim Stauffer). And if it works, they'll see if it's something they can do on a regular basis.