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Ramos hitting cleanup, Zimmerman 2nd, Harper 5th

Mar 31, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT

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NEW YORK — Matt Williams tinkered with countless different lineup combinations throughout spring training, trying to find a formula he felt would work best once the regular season began.

And then the first real lineup card the Nationals’ new manager ever filled out featured a 1-through-9 combo that was never actually used this spring.

So, when did Williams finally settle on this lineup: Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg?

“It’s been a couple weeks,” he said. “We look at it, and during spring training, you want to make sure you’re giving everybody their proper work and number of at-bats they need and all that stuff. But now that we’re here, this for us seems like a good lineup to head out there for Opening Day with.”

The biggest surprise: Ramos hitting cleanup, something the catcher has done six times in his career but almost always as a result of injuries to others.

Williams decided on Ramos based on his production this spring and late last season after he returned from hamstring injuries (he clubbed 14 homers and drove in 53 runs over his final 64 games). The makeup of the rest of the lineup also factored in, especially the decision to bat Zimmerman second.

“Wilson’s one of our best middle-of-the-lineup guys,” Williams said. “The fact we moved Zim up a little bit in the lineup, it puts [Ramos] in a good spot there. Hopefully today he’s got a lot of opportunities in that regard.”

Zimmerman has spent the bulk of his career hitting third, but a late-season switch to the 2-spot spurred the veteran third baseman to post monster September numbers (11 homers, .913 OPS).

“Zim has the ability to do a lot of things on a baseball field,” Williams said. “And to put him in front of those three guys seems to be a case where he will have those opportunities. His success last year dictates a lot of that. … He understands that the No. 2 spot is the No. 2 spot the first inning, and that’s it. And then it just comes around to your next time up.”

Some might question Williams’ decision to hit Harper fifth, denying him at-bats he would get batting higher over the course of a full season. But the rookie manager, who enjoyed much of his success as a player batting fifth, sees that spot as a premium position, one that offers tons of opportunities to drive in runs while also allowing Harper to use his legs.

“Just the ability to open his game if we want to open his game up a little bit,” Williams said. “It’s interesting to see what Bryce can do. He has the ability to beat the other team in a lot of different ways. He hit there a lot this spring. He’s had a lot of opportunities to drive runs in, and we want to continue to do that. … We want him in situations where he can win games for us. And that’s a good spot for him.”

So, will this hold up as the Nationals’ lineup every day moving forward? Though Williams’ preference would be to keep a set 1-through-8 intact, he knows the unlikelihood of that.

“We would like to have everybody in a spot where they’re comfortable and leave them there,” he said. “The reality is, that’s not going to happen. For the most part, that’s what we want to do. But we’ll see how it goes. … It’s going to change day-to-day depending on who we’re facing and who’s playing. But we’d like to leave them in one spot if we possibly could.”

  1. adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    As I wrote in another thread — I’m not fond of Harper batting 5th against a RHP, particularly when 3 righties are right in front of him. Yes, yes, I know the “more AB’s” vs “more RBI opportunities” debate. I come down on the side of more AB’s.

    But Boswell mentioned something in today’s Q&A that was the first reason I’ve read that makes sense to me: “One reason the Nats have put Harper at No. 5 is to take some pressure/spotlight off him. They don’t put it that way. But a couple of vets, who love Harper, think it’s a good spot for him so he can relax a bit ”

    Well, it sort of makes sense. If he’s up with men on base all the time, is that taking pressure off of him?

    But, whatever, perhaps the feeling of #5 will reduce pressure.

    More importantly, I understand he’s only 21, and that if it _does_ take pressure off of him, then I’m all for it!

    • zmunchkin - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:20 PM

      And the other reason is that no one in their right mind would pitch around Werth and Ramos to get to Harper. So the will both get better pitches.

      I want more productive ABs for the team; not more ABs for a given player. And putting the player other teams are more concerned with earlier in the order means they will pitch around him.

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:23 PM

        +1

      • adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:35 PM

        I hear that, but I’m not convinced. Suppose there are two outs and Ramos is due up. The odds are still less than 50% that Harper ever steps into the batters box, right?

        I want more productive AB’s, too — but you needs to AB’s to begin with in order for them to be productive! The guy who bats 5th gets 50 fewer plate appearances than the guy who bats 2nd.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:51 PM

        Wonk, in those 50 PA, what’s the net difference between Harper and Zim, really? Assuming they both stay on the field all season, which is assuming a lot. I’m thinking it can’t be that big a difference.

      • jstodalk - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:58 PM

        I you check Pirates box scores from the early 90’s, you will see that Bonds normally batted fifth in the lineup, behind Van Slyke and Bonilla. It was actually his choice to bat in the fifth slot, even though he was clearly a better hitter than either Van Slyke or Bonilla.

      • adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:29 PM

        Wonk, in those 50 PA, what’s the net difference between Harper and Zim, really? Assuming they both stay on the field all season, which is assuming a lot. I’m thinking it can’t be that big a difference.

        Point taken. But if he’s the best and most feared hitter on the team, I want him to see more at bats.

        As an example, today: the first inning ended with a guy on base and Harper in the on-deck circle. (Granted: it was Zim who got the single, but, still, stuff like that will happen in the 9th inning every once in a while, too).

  2. Hiram Hover - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    Williams now says he decided this a couple of weeks ago, but as I recall, he was still publicly peddling the idea of Desi @ #2 during that time, and never mentioned Ramos @ #4.

    This, coupled with the whole “we’d love a 3d catcher on the roster” BS, just serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t waste a lot of time and energy fretting about and deconstructing a manager’s (or GM’s) public comments.

  3. 34natsfan - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Harper will NOT be able to maximize legs in that slot. Too many slow plodders in front of him. Dont like it. Zimm or Werth better in 5th. I like Desmond #1 or #2.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      Ramos is slow in front of him, and that will cost him some stolen bases, and maybe the odd double, but I’ll take RBI over SB most days.

    • bowdenball - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      Are you really complaining about the possibility of Harper not being able to run as much as he’d like because there will be too many people on base in front of him?

      If that actually becomes a problem the Nats will be so far in first place that it won’t matter.

  4. 34natsfan - Mar 31, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    @ZuckermanCSN Glad our #5 hitter has been practicing bunting so much this spring!

    • texnat1 - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      I can think of one additional reason to go down this path. I have long maintained that the Nats need another big bat in their lineup. Well, by moving Ramos to a protected position in the order at cleanup, you give him every chance to become that big bat. The thinking would be that Harper is still Harper, but that Ramos at 4 (with Harper protecting him) is much better than Ramos down at the end of the line up. If Ramos develops into a star offensive player, that would take a lot of pressure off the other guys in the lineup, and could have huge intangible benefits.

      Not sure I buy all that, but its plausible.

  5. stoatva - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    Longtime lurker, posting for the first time… are log-in problems common on Firefox? Couldn’t get in until I switched to Safari.

    And, uh… go Nats!

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      Welcome. I use Chrome these days.

    • adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:26 PM

      Firefox works fine for me, fwiw.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    I’d rather a pitcher sac bunting Rendon than trying to advance Ramos.

  7. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    Love those kind of slow starts from ALR!

  8. stoatva - Mar 31, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    Royals tie it up against Verlander, 1-1. They’ve had some good contact.

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