Marty Niland: Nationals pitchers showing no need for DH role

When the Nationals visit the Kansas City Royals tonight, manager Dusty Baker will pencil a designated hitter into his lineup for the first time this season. But even playing in an American League park, Baker might actually think twice before he doing so.

Most Nationals fans could sense that Joe Ross was done for the day as he walked off the field after tossing six stellar innings in Saturday’s 6-1 victory in St. Louis. With a 4-1 lead at the time, he had rebounded nicely from a finger blister that had caused him to miss a start, was in position for his third win of the season, and the bullpen was ready to put the game away.

But Ross wasn’t done quite yet.

He came to the plate with one out and a man on first, defying conventional wisdom among NL managers to use a pinch-hitter after the starting pitcher is lifted. Not only that, he reached base.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Ross’ exploits with the bat this season. After the blister had obviously ended his previous start in Miami after just two innings, Ross led off the the top of the third and drew a walk off Wei-Yin Chen, then came around to score on Bryce Harper’s double.

In the thrilling 6-5, 16-inning win over Minnesota on April 24, Ross pinch hit for Jonathan Papelbon in the 10th inning and again delivered a hit.

Ross’ on-base percentage is a team-high .500 this season. That’s right -- Harper and Daniel Murphy are both looking up at the young hurler in at least one category.

And he’s hardly the only Nationals pitcher who knows how to handle a bat. Max Scherzer owns a .308 average, higher than the entire Washington outfield and three-fifths of the regular infield.

In fact, four of the five starting pitchers have at least one hit this season, with only Tanner Roark wearing the collar. Perhaps he’ll get the silent treatment from his teammates when he finally reaches base safely.

The bullpen is in on the action, too. Oliver Perez was able to be the winning pitcher in the April 24 game against Minnesota because the tie run scored when he dropped down a two-out bunt in the bottom of the 15th inning that Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy misplayed into a two-base error. It was was Perez’ first time at the plate since 2010.

The debate about whether the NL should use the designated hitter isn’t going to end any time soon, but at least in Washington, there’s a legitimate answer when DH proponents drag out that old saw, “Who wants to watch pitchers bat?”

Nats fans can proudly raise their hands and say, “We do!”

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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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