Dusty Baker thought he had figured out his preferred lineup when the Nationals are facing a left-handed starter, one that included Trea Turner leading off, Michael A. Taylor in center field and Daniel Murphy shifting to first base.
But then Murphy had to be scratched from the lineup for tonight’s second-half opener against the Pirates, and Baker’s master plan had to be thrown out the window.
Murphy was scratched due to “general leg soreness,” according to the Nationals. Club officials didn’t sound particularly concerned about it, believing the veteran infielder simply could use a day off after participating in this week’s All-Star Game (and accompanying events) in San Diego.
The NL’s leading hitter at the break with a .348 batting average, Murphy had played in 87 of the Nationals’ first 90 games this season, including all four games last weekend in New York against the Mets. He flew to San Diego after the game Sunday evening, took part in All-Star festivities Monday, played six innings (and got three at-bats) in Tuesday’s game, then flew back East on Wednesday.
With Murphy scratched, Clint Robinson will now play first base against the Pirates, batting eighth against left-hander Francisco Liriano. Taylor, originally slated to bat seventh, will move up to the No. 2 spot, with Jayson Werth moving down to the No. 3 spot vacated by Murphy.
Baker had reason for the original lineup card he submitted, and still appears to plan on using a similar batting order when his team is facing a lefty for the foreseeable future.
With Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list with a strained ribcage muscle, Baker is going with something of a modified platoon at first base: Robinson against right-handers, Murphy against left-handers (even though he bats from the left side of the plate himself).
That also opens the door for Turner to lead off and play second base, as he did in Sunday’s first-half finale against the Mets (who started lefty Steven Matz).
“Well, I’ve got more speed,” Baker said, explaining what he liked about this particular lineup before Murphy was scratched. “Hopefully we can combat Liriano, who’s a very tough left-hander. And I’ve got Murphy at first. We have to do what we have to do, especially ‘til Zim gets back. And tomorrow we’ll probably have a little different lineup. But I like my team. And I like the different combination of things I can do out there.”
With right-handers Gerrit Cole and Chad Kuhl slated to pitch this weekend for Pittsburgh, the Nationals are likely to sit both Turner and Taylor, with Ben Revere moving back into center field and the leadoff spot.
But once they face another left-hander, Baker is comfortable using his original lineup from tonight. That includes Murphy at first base, a position he has played 193 times in the majors but only three times this year.
“I haven’t seen him play that much,” Baker said. “He told me he had probably 100-something games over there at first, which is more than anybody else that I have, other than probably Robinson. So with the fact we have a left-handed starter today, we’ll probably continue to do that because left-handers don’t really affect Murphy as much as other people. So we’ll probably continue to do that until we get whole and healthy.”