Rachel Levitin: Where’s the help from Nats’ leadoff hitters?

The crowd of 13,413 that braved an indefinite rainstorm that passed over Nationals Park last night bore witness to Jayson Werth’s first game against his former team. Washington went on to win 7-4 behind an offense sparked by Werth (and his first home run against the Phillies in the fifth inning), Wilson Ramos, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel.

With sluggers Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche sidelined with injuries last night, it was imperative that the Nationals step up and fill the offensive/defensive void or face a long night against the one team in their division that they’d rather not a have a long night against.

“It’s one game, but I was really pleased with the way we played in general. I thought there was a couple times there toward the end there we could have tightened it up a little bit,” manager Jim Riggleman said after the game.

While it wasn’t mentioned in the postgame press conference, it should be said that Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond went 0-for-5 as last night’s leadoff man.

Let’s recap: a good leadoff hitter is expected to reach base and a proficient rate, be able to steal bases at a consistent rate, drive the pitcher deep into the count and score runs. Last night, Desmond did none of those things.

Desmond is batting .209 this season over 10 games and 43 at-bats. He’s nine hits into the season. Desmond does, however, lead the team with three steals.

But it’s like Riggleman said: Last night was one game and there’s still some tightening up to do.

Desmond’s teammate up the middle and fellow candidate for the leadoff role, second baseman Danny Espinosa, got on base two times last night. He drew a walk and hit a sacrifice fly to score Ramos with the night’s first run in the second.

Espinosa is hitting .269 through the first 10 games and is 7-for-26. Does that make him the Nats new leadoff hitter? Not necessarily.

Right now, Ramos and Werth lead the team with nine hits apiece, but knowing that doesn’t solve the leadoff issue either because they are deeper-in-order hitters.

Outfielder Rick Ankiel is getting on base, but he’s not a prototypical leadoff hitter either.

With Nyjer Morgan in Milwaukee and out of that role for the Nationals (he returns this weekend for his first series against his former team), one of the starting nine will have to step into the role or grow into it over time.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love D.C., and will be sharing her observations about her adopted team this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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