Mar 10, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
A manager constructs a spring training lineup with plenty of objectives in mind. First and foremost, he wants to make sure his best players get as many at-bats as possible as quickly as possible before they take a seat after four or five innings.
But a manager also uses exhibition play to try some things out and put together various lineup combinations he may envision using on a regular basis once the regular season begins.
And knowing that, it’s hard to ignore the fact Matt Williams has penciled in Ian Desmond as his No. 2 hitter five times in seven total Grapefruit League games to date for the Nationals shortstop.
Desmond has hit second plenty in his career: 112 times, second only to the 146 times he has hit sixth. But most of those came in his early days in the big leagues, 2010 and 2011, when ex-manager Jim Riggleman envisioned Desmond as more of a table-setter than a run-producer.
Davey Johnson believed Desmond was the latter and used him mostly as his No. 5 or No. 6 hitter the last two seasons. The results spoke for themselves: Desmond won back-to-back Silver Slugger Awards while posting outstanding slash numbers from the heart of the lineup (.297/.329/.494 when batting fifth, .289/.343/.511 when batting sixth).
Williams isn’t committing to anything lineup-wise yet, but he did tell reporters in Viera yesterday what he likes about Desmond as a No. 2 hitter.
“One, I like his leadership,” the rookie manager said. “I like it with the ability to steal bases. He’s a smart baserunner. … He can hit the ball to all fields, and he’s got thunder. In the middle of your lineup, you certainly want that. That’s what he brings as a No. 2 hitter.”
A lineup boasting Denard Span in the leadoff spot, Desmond batting second and then some combination of Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman as 3-4-5 certainly has the potential to be quite potent. But that’s only if Desmond continues to produce from the 2-spot the way he has from the 5- and 6-spot the last two seasons.
The biggest knock on Desmond has always been his over-aggressive approach at the plate. If he sees a first-pitch fastball, he’s going to swing. And that approach obviously worked well for him in some really big spots the last couple years, leading to plenty of RBI.
But a No. 2 hitter, traditionally speaking, is a club’s most-patient hitter, someone who can work the count, foul off some pitches and give the leadoff man in front of him an opportunity to run. That’s not Desmond.
Perhaps patience is overrated, and there is a growing philosophy around baseball that a club’s best all-around hitter should bat second to take advantage of the fact he’ll get more plate appearances over the course of the season than he would farther down the order.
Whether Desmond is successful hitting second or not depends on his ability to continue to do what he’s been doing for two years now, no matter his place on the lineup card.
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