Lineup changes on the second day of the season aren’t a traditional strategy. Unless a team is facing a lefty in Game 2 after facing a right-hander in Game 1, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to shake things up only 24 hours after the season began.
So how to explain Nationals manager Davey Martinez’s decision to switch two of his three starting outfielders for tonight’s game against the Mets? Why are Yadiel Hernandez and Dee Strange-Gordon in the lineup instead of Lane Thomas and Victor Robles?
It has to do both with the matchup against Max Scherzer and a concerted effort by Martinez to keep his bench players involved early in the season.
“I wanted to get Yadi and Dee in a game fairly quickly, and I thought today would be a good day for them both to play,” Martinez said. “We kind of like the match-up a little bit. But I want to try to get these guys involved early and get them at-bats to keep some of these guys going. As you know, Dee had a great spring training. Yadi started coming around at the end, hitting balls real hard. I want to make sure we continue to get them their at-bats.”
Scherzer’s lefty-righty splits are only marginally different. Lefties hit .192/.266/.331 off him last season, while righties hit .177/.211/.330.
He will be facing six left-handed batters in the Nationals lineup tonight, with Hernandez batting sixth in left field and Strange-Gordon batting ninth in center field, joining leadoff man César Hernández, sluggers Juan Soto and Josh Bell, and catcher Keibert Ruiz.
But this is also a reflection to the lack of opportunities for bench players to hit under the new designated hitter rule in the National League. Despite losing 5-1 on Thursday night and making five pitching changes, Martinez never had any need to use a pinch-hitter.
“We thought if we had something going on, we could pinch-hit later on in the game,” Martinez said. “But that’s the thing about the DH: When you look at your lineup, the guys that you play are the guys that are probably going to play the full nine innings. But there could be some opportunities later in games to do something.”
In that vein, Martinez wanted to find a way to keep Yadiel Hernandez and Strange-Gordon involved after both saw significant playing time in spring training.
“I want to make sure I get these guys in and get them going, and have them play and not have them sitting there for five or six days,” the manager said.
The biggest drawback: The Nationals will be utilizing an inferior outfield defensively, with a flyball pitcher on the mound in Josiah Gray.
That doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the defensive alignment at night’s end, though.
“One, we’ve got to score runs,” Martinez said. “I think the way the lineup is set up, if we take the lead, we could obviously do something to get Vic back in the game. But I want to try to score first off Max. That’s the key for us today.”
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