Winker's hot start lands him near top of Nats lineup, MLB leaderboard

LOS ANGELES – Take a glance at the major league leaders in the top offensive rate categories, note the expected names that consistently show up and then try not to gasp when Jesse Winker’s name shows up right there alongside everyone else.

Winker, who made the Nationals’ roster Opening Day roster off a minor league deal signed the day before spring training began, currently ranks third in the majors in batting average (.373), first in on-base percentage (.500), 13th in slugging percentage (.608) and fifth in OPS (1.108). The only names ahead of him in that last category: Tyler O’Neill, Mookie Betts, Marcell Ozuna and Jose Altuve.

Nobody’s suggesting Winker will remain there throughout the season. But given his hot start, and his track record of success several years ago while playing for the Reds, there’s reason to be optimistic he can remain productive for the Nats.

“I feel good with the work I’m putting in,” he said. “Obviously, it’s nice when you’re getting results, but I feel great with the work I’m doing with (hitting coach Darnell Coles and assistant hitting coach Chris Johnson).”

Winker entered the season figuring to share playing time in left field with Eddie Rosario. Three weeks later, he’s become not only an everyday player, but the Nationals’ No. 2 hitter in recent days, batting behind CJ Abrams.

Winker, who served as DH on Tuesday, was the only member of the lineup to drive in any runs during a 6-2 loss to the Dodgers, launching a 429-foot homer off left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who had just entered the game to replace right-handed opener Kyle Hurt. That kind of production could allow him to stay in the lineup more regularly, avoiding the platoon label that had been attached to him entering the season.

“That’s the benefit of the DH: You can kind of talk about guys that are warming up and kind of game plan,” he said. “It was a good refresher for me. So definitely thankful for (Coles and Johnson). And then, I was really just trying to get a pitch out over and put a good swing on it, and it got up and out.”

Winker was available on a minor league deal after two rough seasons with the Mariners and Brewers, during which he slashed .214/.337/.318 and battled multiple injuries, one of which required neck surgery.

Healthy again, and down 25 pounds, he’s starting to bear more resemblance to the hitter he was in 2021 with the Reds, when he slashed .305/.394/.556 with 32 doubles and 24 homers and earned an All-Star selection.

“I’m proud of him,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The injury slowed him down a little bit, but he got back, had a good winter, worked really hard to get in shape, and he looks good right now and he’s trying to help us win games.”

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