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The importance of a leadoff man

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Willie Harris came up through the Orioles’ system as a leadoff man, and until he settled in as a major-league utility guy, he always found himself at the top of whatever lineup he was in. It’s also where he prefers to hit.

“It’s almost like you get to create havoc,” Harris said. “I like starting some trouble and causing pitchers some problems.”

Well, Wee Willie caused plenty of havoc yesterday. And because of it, he’s probably going to get more chances to do it for the forseeable future. Harris reached base four times yesterday in the 5-3 win over the O’s, and he did it all. He homered. He doubled. He singled. He drew a walk. He stole a base. (Oh, and did I mention he still plays a mean center field?)

This is not meant as a knock on Cristian Guzman, who is having a fine season (hitting .336 and could be headed for his second straight All-Star appearance). But Guzie’s not really a leadoff guy. He doesn’t draw any walks, doesn’t take any pitches. He’s much better suited to bat second, which is where he was yesterday and where I think he’ll remain for at least another few days.

Manny Acta decided to go with the new-look lineup yesterday, with Harris leading off, Guzman second and everyone else one spot lower than normal (Nick Johnson third, Ryan Zimmerman fourth, Adam Dunn fifth). Acta’s reasoning was twofold: 1) “lengthen” the lineup, so there’s more pop in the lower half, and 2) get Harris up to the plate as much as possible.

The Nats need Harris right now. Over his last eight games, he’s batting .355 with three homers, six RBI, four doubles, seven runs, three stolen bases, four walks, a .429 OBP, a .774 slugging percentage and a whopping 1.203 OPS. Not a bad guy to have leading off.

In other news as the Nats and Marlins prepare to play at Joe Robbie … er, Pro Player … er, Dolphins … er, Dolphin … er, Land Shark Stadium …

— Garrett Mock was named International League Pitcher of the Week after following up his complete-game, three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout over Columbus with a one-run, six-inning performance yesterday against Pawtucket.

— Jack Spradlin was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after tossing eight scoreless innings in relief for Harrisburg.

— From the Elias Sports Bureau: John Lannan, who is 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in June, will be the first starting pitcher to go 3-0 or better in a calendar month while posting an ERA under 2.50 for the Montreal/Washington franchise since Tomo Ohka went 3-0 with a 1.51 ERA for the Expos in May 2004.

— A reader who was sitting in right field yesterday at Camden Yards swears he saw Adam Dunn’s fourth-inning homer hit the B&O Warehouse on the fly, then bounce down off Eutaw Street before bouncing back up and hitting the warehouse. I’ve watched the video several times, and I’m 99 percent convinced the ball landed on the street first before bouncing off the Warehouse. (No one’s ever hit the Warehouse on the fly in an actual game.) Anyone else there who had a good, up-close look at it?

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Mark Zuckerman

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