Feb 20, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Among Matt Williams’ tougher decisions this spring involves the construction of his starting lineup, and there are no shortage of options for the rookie manager to consider.
The Nationals are somewhat unique in that two of their best offensive players (Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth) are versatile enough to hit anywhere from leadoff through fifth in a lineup. Both are good at making pitchers work and drawing walks. Both have the raw power to club a bunch of home runs but also have strong gap-to-gap power that produces doubles. And Harper, of course, brings the added element of speed to his game, the kind of tool best exploited near the top of the lineup.
Throw in the fact the Nationals have three more right-handed power hitters in Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, a left-handed slugger coming off a down year in Adam LaRoche and a good contact hitter in Anthony Rendon (should he win the second baseman’s job) and Williams has plenty to consider.
Williams, who played in the ’80s and ’90s, prefers the set lineups that were prevalent during that era. But he also recognizes today’s game and today’s players offer more of an opportunity for regular tweaks.
“The hope of every manager, especially a first-time manager, is to say: ‘Guys, it’s going to be this way, and don’t even bother looking at the lineup card when you come into the clubhouse, because you’re going to hit in this spot,” Williams said. “When in reality, that doesn’t happen. So my objective this spring is to find out where they’re comfortable, and try to put them in that position as much as I can, so they feel comfortable going out to play and it’s not foreign to them.”
Williams said he’ll probably change things around based on matchups, especially on days when tough left-handers are opposing the Nationals. Harper, still working to perfect his swing against lefties, could be most-affected by that.
Since reaching the majors in 2012, Harper has most commonly hit second or third. Williams, though, suggested he may prefer to bat the young slugger fifth, affording him more opportunities to drive in runs.
“I think back to my day, and the 5-spot is a really nice spot,” the manager said. “It allows him to get freed up a little bit. He’s not necessarily worried about running in front of the 3-4 guys, if he’s hitting 2. There’s a lot of cleanup RBIs there. And it may provide protection for the 3-4 guys as well, depending on the matchup, righty-lefty.”
Before you get too worked up over that notion, be aware that Williams hasn’t decided anything yet and doesn’t plan to make a final decision anytime soon.
“Two is certainly a spot that he can hit in,” Williams said. “He’s done that. He’s led off as well. He’s hit 3. So all of those spots play. We’ll see. We’ll experiment a little bit in spring and find out where he feels good and examine that as well.”
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