Dec 11, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As he has begun to learn the Nationals’ personnel over the last month-plus, Matt Williams has begun scribbling out starting lineups in his mind.
Along the way, Washington’s new manager has come to a realization: He’s got plenty of choices.
“The good thing about it is we have those options,” Williams said Tuesday during his media session at the Winter Meetings. “That’s a really nice feeling, to have guys that you can interchange, if you need to, that are comfortable hitting in the middle of a major league lineup and have success doing it. All of those things point to a good lineup and something that we, as a staff, can use very well.”
Davey Johnson opened 2013 with a lineup he believed would hold up well through the entire season: Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Pitcher.
Along the way, though, the former manager had to make several tweaks for a variety of reasons. Werth, Harper and Ramos suffered injuries. LaRoche struggled. Espinosa was demoted to the minors and replaced by rookie Anthony Rendon.
By season’s end, Johnson’s lineup had a distinctly different look: Span, Zimmerman, Werth, Harper, Desmond, LaRoche, Ramos, Rendon, Pitcher.
So, what does Williams have in mind? Will he stick with something similar to his predecessor, or does he envision a completely different look?
“My pitcher is going to hit ninth,” the rookie skipper said with a laugh. “I know that much.”
Williams did share a few other thoughts. Span will continue to lead off, hoping to build off his strong second-half performance.
“Certainly you don’t argue with Denard leading off,” Williams said. “We think of him in that role.”
The No. 2 spot is where things start to get interesting. Williams has no shortage of options. He suggested he could use either of his middle infielders: Desmond or Rendon. He could take advantage of Werth’s high on-base percentage and ability to work the count. He could keep Zimmerman in a spot that, while unconventional, helped the veteran third baseman turn into baseball’s most-productive slugger in September.
And then there’s Harper, who dazzled as a rookie batting second but was moved down into the heart of the order as a sophomore, with Johnson trying to take advantage of the 21-year-old’s immense power potential.
Then again, Harper also possesses rare speed for an elite power hitter.
“I want to put Bryce in a position that he can steal a base if he wants to,” Williams said. “Where is that? It could be a number of places.”
Williams prefers to break up his left-handed hitters if possible, so somebody (most likely Zimmerman or Werth) figures to bat in between Harper and LaRoche. He also, in an ideal world, would like to maintain a consistent heart of the order, not moving guys around unless necessary.
“I want to make sure that my guys that are in the middle of the lineup are comfortable in the middle of the lineup and stay there for the majority of the time,” he said. “You have things that you can do to stack against a certain pitcher. But for the most part, I want my guys to be in the position where they’re comfortable, it’s stable to them and they can play the game.”
Suffice it to say, lineup construction remains a work-in-progress for Williams. Fortunately, he still has four months to figure it all out.
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